Labour: selections, factionalism … and Akehurst

December 10, 2017 at 3:54 pm (AWL, democracy, labour party, left, Momentum, posted by JD, reformism)

Above: Labour First factionalises

By Will Sefton (this article also appears in the present issue of Solidarity)

We may well have reached ‘peak Momentum’. These are the most favourable political circumstances Labour’s hard left could envisage.

They feel politically vindicated by the general election result, have a well-funded, well-staffed organisation holding a vast amount of data on Labour members and have reshaped Labour’s membership through successive rounds of mass recruitment.

So says Luke Akehurst, secretary of Labour First, writing a sober article about Momentum and local council selections in the course of the last couple of weeks of right-wing hysteria from the bourgeois press, with Roy Hattersley and Angela Rayner making (politically differentiated) contributions.

Akehurst is relatively realistic on Momentum’s political advances. The “centre-left”, as he calls his wing of the party, did okay on nominations to Labour’s National Executive, although Eddie Izzard still has 100 fewer Constituency Party nominations Momentum-backed candidate Yasmin Dar. One of the “centre left” candidates — Izzard, Johanna Baxter or Gurinder Singh Josan — could win a seat.

Across the UK, the left of Labour is, in fact, not sweeping the board. The picture is mixed. In Haringey, the campaign against the £2 billion Haringey Development Vehicle (HDV) regeneration plan has ensured nearly all of the incumbent Progress-dominated council Cabinet have been ousted by Corbyn supporters. In Lewisham East, the right retained control of the party. In Watford a Momentum-backed trade unionist would not have got onto the shortlist for the MP candidate without an intervention by the National Executive.

The two organised right wing groups within Labour – Progress and Labour First – are not identical, though they work closely with each other.

What really bothers Progress, so they say, is the lack of experience of the left candidates as against established right wingers. Akehurst and Labour First are more worried about the kind of politics that these councillors will be putting forward and who they feel they are accountable too. He mourns the passing of cosy dinners and drinks receptions with lobbyists and property developers.

Undoubtedly it is true that many of the new intake in councils in 2018 will be relative newcomers, some involved in politics within the last two years. That only indicates that the pressure on new left councillors to make cuts, to carry out “tough decisions”, will be intense. It highlights the importance of discussing the strategy for councillors in a fight against austerity. It cannot wait till May. It needs to be more than an anguished plea for a Labour Government in 2022. Without such a strategy the left will be caught up in passing on more cuts and participating in running services in a dire state following seven years of Tory austerity.

Having a layer of Labour councillors who are accountable to Labour members and the local labour movement, who want to mobilise it to fight, is long overdue. But can we get this?

Minimally local council candidates should call for the next Labour government to restore all the money that has been cut since 2010. Local labour movements should call meetings to discuss the needs of the area and what strategy is needed to defeat the cuts. Our movement has historical examples that can be learnt from — victories at Poplar and Clay Cross, as well as those that ended in defeat as with the fight of the local government left between 1979 and 1985.

We must be absolutely clear that there is no subversion of democracy, no underhand coup, going on in Labour. Members are simply exercising their democratic right to select the representatives they want. Some right-wingers are moaning about an increasingly factional atmosphere and condemn the fact that Momentum has used its membership to mobilise people in ward and selection meetings.

Roy Hattersley notes that Momentum is not as tightly controlled as Militant, but has a much further reach. He raises the spectre of the “far left pamphleteers” being a dominant and aggressive force once more. But the movement could do with more pamphleteers and more engagement with tough arguments! Healthy labour movement organisation relies on members engaging with political arguments. Factionalism is simply arguing for a point of view and winning people over to it.

Both Labour First and Progress do just this! It is what Hattersley is doing. In this sense, we will need more factionalism, more organisation and more opportunities if members are to exercise their democratic rights. Unfortunately some on the left have chimed in in with the furore. Quoted in the Times, Shadow Education Secretary Angela Rayner said that established MPs and councillors had an “absolute right” to be there and to be listened to.

Rayner seems to have got confused between the divine right of Kings, which many councillors seem to want, and the open political debate in which all sides have the chance to make their case. Typically, as in Haringey, right-wing councillors would rather duck a political fight. There the right have resigned rather than go through an open selection process. They have refused to be held to account, and they have branded local members as bullies and unthinking drones who are mobilised purely to cause trouble for hard-working stalwarts.

Akehurst offers a more active strategy. “We have to build up our capacity to out-recruit Momentum by mobilising the larger latent public support of the centre-left and some centrists who want an electable Labour Party. This will require huge investment in digital and press recruitment advertising, coherent messaging, an attractive candidate for whenever Jeremy retires, and fresh policies, not 1997 answers to 2017 problems (though these are preferable to 1917 or 1977 ones).”

“Sadly, the existence of Momentum requires similar factional rigidity and structure on our side…This is contrary to the historic culture of the Labour Party, which until 2015 was not factional…we are buzzing around them as an incoherent rabble of individualists.” This is utter nonsense.

The Labour Party has had factions for all its history; only, before Corbyn, the left was much weaker and the party was a rump. Akehurst is rewriting history, presenting the Labour Party as a friendly place where everyone used to get along, to try and weaken the grip of the left and to convince people that it is both wrong and irregular for there to be disruption to the normal boring, bureaucratic and cliquey goings on of local parties. In the face of the false nostalgia, we need to assert and fight for a democratic party that debates its policies and political differences in the open.

  • Coatesy’s view, here

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Distinctions on left antisemitism

November 29, 2017 at 8:42 pm (anti-semitism, AWL, israel, labour party, left, palestine, posted by JD, Racism, stalinism, zionism)

Left antisemitism

By Martin Thomas (also published in the present issue of Solidarity and at the Workers Liberty website)

Workers’ Liberty has been debating theories of racism and their relationship to left anti-semitism. This contribution is a response to Carmen Basant (Solidarity 454).

Modern political antisemitism consists in damning the very existence of the Israeli state (however modified) as inescapably racist and imperialist, and thus damning all Jews who fail to renounce connection to or sympathy with Israel (however critical) as agents of racism and imperialism.

More traditional racial antisemitism consists in damning Jews, as a hereditary supposed “race”, as constitutionally malevolent and disruptive.

There is no Chinese wall between these forms of antisemitism, or indeed between either of them and other forms of antisemitism in history (Christian, reactionary anti-capitalist, etc.) However, there are distinctions, and it is important to understand these if we are to convince left-minded people influenced by strands of antisemitism rather than only cursing them.

I adduce five reasons for distinguishing between political antisemitism and racial antisemitism.

1. The term “racism” has acquired a diffuse width of meaning, and at the same time come to be cognate with crimes and immoralities rather than with erroneous (or hurtfully erroneous) ideologies. When we are arguing with people who have strands or traits in their thinking of political antisemitism, but who (by their own lights) abhor racial antisemitism, to call them “racist” cuts short the argument. It conveys to them that we do not wish to dispute political ideas with them, but instead to brand them as criminal.

2. Antisemitism is much older than racism. It is possible, of course, to stretch the term racism by back-defining it to cover many phenomena from centuries before the term existed. But to do that blurs rather than clarifies. In particular, it blurs the ways in which antisemitism operates quite differently from general racism (or, if you insist on putting it that way, from other racism).

3. It is indeed, as Carmen points out, disorienting to identify racism exclusively or overwhelmingly as an offshoot of European colonialism. But it is equally disorienting to identify it as a characteristic offshoot of nationalism, presumably of irredentist and revanchist Arab nationalism. Political antisemitism has a dynamic different from both nationalism and racism.

4. Being Jewish does not license antisemitic views, any more than being a woman licenses hostility to feminist demands. But the high-profile Jewish political antisemites are clearly not “self-hating Jews”, either.

5. If we abandon the distinction between political antisemitism and racism, then that makes us no longer able to point out and denounce where people drift over the line. Read the rest of this entry »

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The Brexit hypocrisy of Labour’s ‘moderates’

September 27, 2017 at 8:23 am (democracy, Europe, labour party, left, Migrants, posted by JD, reformism, stalinism, unions)

From The Clarion:

By Rick Parnet

Leading people on the right or self-styled “moderate”* wing of the Labour Party are making a fuss about Momentum, in defence of the leadership, keeping the Brexit/free movement debate off this week’s conference agenda.

It is understandable why left-wing delegates who did not want Corbyn to suffer a defeat went for this, but Momentum (and CLPD) were wrong to do it, both because the issues of Brexit and migrants’ rights are so important (and the leadership needs correcting on them) and because conference has been denied the opportunity to debate this hugely important issue (sure, with its own consent). Left-wing activists should organise to call those who made this decision to account and challenge them politically.

However, it would be foolish to think that most of the leading “moderates” are either genuinely concerned for party democracy or sincere and consistent on the issues. On both most of them display large elements of anti-Corbyn opportunism. (What I describe here largely concerns the leading people on the right, not necessarily everyone sympathetic to some of the things they say, especially on this issue.)

Dominating the conference till this year, the right specialised in keeping controversial issues it feared losing on off the agenda – and by far less democratic methods than winning a prioritisation vote. In fact, even this year, the out-going, right wing-led Conference Arrangements Committee has ruled out numerous motions – on nationalising the banks, for instance, and on stopping arms sales and military support for Saudi Arabia. It ruled out 24 of 26 emergency motions, including all 23 from CLPs – and, please note, TSSA’s emergency motion on Brexit and free movement.

Much of the left leadership’s record on democracy (for instance in Momentum) is poor, but the idea that we need lessons from those who have spent thirty years attempting to suppress every spark of independent life in the Labour Party and labour movement – and are continuing to do so, though with less and less success – is absurd.

On the substantive issues too, people on all sides have short memories.

It was only last year that the right, then much more in control of the conference, worked to keep Brexit and freedom of movement off the agenda, because it feared that delegates would vote to defend free movement! Like Momentum and CLPD this year with eg rail, last year the right championed the uncontroversial issue of child refugees – helpfully put in a different subject area by the CAC – precisely in order to stop free movement being discussed.

This was when Jeremy Corbyn was still standing tough in defence of free movement – before he gave in, after many months of right-wing and Stalinist and media pressure and with no support from Momentum as its office, directed by Jon Lansman, ignored its democratically agreed policy.

Remember the arguments during last year’s leadership election and still being made now – that Corbyn was “soft on immigration” and so couldn’t appeal to “working-class voters”. No doubt many “moderates” genuinely believe in migrants’ rights and are happy to take a more liberal position. But the idea that their leaders are consistent advocates or reliable allies in this struggle is wrong. Note that their motions for conference on the single market did not mention migrants’ rights or free movement (unlike the motions from the Labour Campaign for Free Movement). The right pitched these issues only when they wanted to appeal to people on the left.

In the coming arguments it would be absurd to rule out temporary and limited tactical alliances with people on the right of the party who are willing to stand up for free movement. But the left needs to maintain fierce independence and hostility at all times, including by exposing the right-wing leaders’ real record and motives, and to seek to take the lead in this fight.

* Apparently we are no longer allowed to say “the right” because it offends people. On one level I don’t care what we call them. But

i) Whinging about being called “the right” (which clearly means the right of the Labour Party), from people engaged in a determined campaign of name-calling, lying, cheating, bullying, expulsions, etc, is a bit rich.

ii) Their conduct is far from “moderate” and so are many of the positions they spent years defending, ie privatisation, PFI, growing inequality, “flexible labour markets”, etc – not to mention migrant-bashing – under Blair. I am proud to be “extreme left”, but what the Labour right have promoted and are still reluctant to break from is not moderate social democracy but a fairly extreme version of neo-liberalism.

Let us know what you think? Write a reply btl here at Shiraz and/or at  theclarionmag@gmail.com

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Open letter to the deluded pro-Brexit “left”

September 7, 2017 at 12:48 pm (Anti-Racism, Civil liberties, CPB, Europe, ex-SWP, Human rights, immigration, Jim D, left, Migrants, populism, Racism, rights, Socialist Party, stalinism, SWP, Tory scum)

p46 - Potential measures
Above: the leaked Tory plans

Open letter to the deluded pro-Brexit “left”

Yes, I mean you lot at the Morning Star/CPB, SWP, Counterfire and Socialist Party:

I take it for granted that as self-proclaimed leftists, you are knee-jerk anti-racists and internationalists opposed to anything that tends to divide, rather than unite, our class.

And yet you called for a Leave vote in the referendum, and continue to back Brexit! In the case of the Morning Star/CPB, you oppose continued membership of the single market and customs union – in other words you want a “hard” Brexit!

To its shame, the Morning Star continues with this folly, publishing Daily Mail-style editorials that more or less explicitly back David Davis against the “intransigent” Michel Barnier and the “EU bosses in Brussels, Bonn and Frankfurt.”

Some of us tried to warn you about the Pandora’s box of xenophobia and racism that you were opening. Yet even when the Leave vote was immediately followed by a sharp increase in racist attacks and incidents (in fact, hate crime in general, such as attacks on gays), you wilfully closed your eyes and stuffed your ears, mouthing shameful banalities and evasions like “there was racism on both sides” and “racism didn’t begin on June 23rd.”

Well, yesterday we caught a glimpse of what the Tories have planned for EU citizens in Britain, or coming to Britain.

The plans are not yet official government policy, but all the signs are that they soon will be. The leaked document is explicit about ending a rights based approach. EU citizens arriving after Brexit would have to show passports, not ID cards; they would have to apply for short term two year visas for low skilled jobs; they would be prevented from bringing over extended family members and be subject to an income threshold (£18,600 per year) even to bring a spouse.

Employers, landlords, banks and others would have to carry out checks on paper-work. The hostility towards immigrants Theresa May deliberately stirred up as Home Secretary would intensify, and rub off on all “foreigners” and ethnic minorities, whether from the EU or not. British-born people of colour would inevitably find it more difficult to obtain work and accommodation.

As immigration lawyer  Colin Yeo  has commented: ‘The first and most obvious [result] is that the plans would make the UK a far less attractive destination for migrants. This is of course the whole point. The Home Office is protectionist by nature and worries only about security. The economy, consequent tax take, international relations and “soft power” international standing are considered worth the sacrifice. But what would happen to the sectors of the economy dependent on migrant labour, such as agriculture, food processing and hospitality? Are the public ready for a huge recession, massive job losses and reduced funding for public services and infrastructure?’

Andrew Coates, who knows a thing or two about France, has noted that ‘the scheme is a policy of National Preference, close to the demand of the far-right Front National, for jobs to go to first of all to UK Nationals.’

Deluded comrades: how are you now going to explain yourselves and your craven role as foot soldiers for the carnival of reaction that is Brexit? Your original  arguments and justifications for your pro-Leave stance during the referendum varied from the bizarre (after Farage and Johnson – us!) through the deluded (vote Leave to oppose racism!) to the frankly egregious (immigration controls are a form of closed shop!).

There was only ever one argument in favour of Brexit that made any sense from a socialist perspective: that EU membership would prevent a left wing government from implementing nationalisations and other forms of state intervention into the economy.

This urban myth has been perpetuated by left-reformist anti-Europeans and by Tory anti-interventionists for the last forty years.

But it’s wrong, at least according Article 345 of the Treaty of the Functioning of the EU of 1958, which states: ‘The Treaties shall in no way prejudice the rules in Member States governing the system of property ownership.’ This Article remains in force and makes a nonsense of the claim that existing EU legislation prohibits the kind of nationalisation, or other economic intervention, being advocated by Jeremy Corbyn.

But even if it did, is anyone seriously suggesting that if Corbyn gets elected on a manifesto that includes public ownership, he would not be able to implement it if we remained in the EU? Nonsense. As the pro-Brexit right continually reminded us during the referendum campaign, Britain is the fifth largest economy in the world, and (unlike Greece) would have little difficulty in forcing the EU to accept a Corbyn government’s right to introduce such relatively minor reforms as taking key industries and services into public ownership. Anyone who’s ever taken a train in France or Germany knows this.

But, for the sake of argument, let’s say you’re right and I’m wrong: what is the benefit for a social democratic Corbyn-style government, of voluntarily leaving the EU, rather than pushing ahead with its programme regardless, and (in effect) daring the EU to kick the UK out? That’s a question I’ve asked many times in debates with you lot, and to which I have never received a coherent reply.

As the reactionary, anti-working class and essentially racist nature of Brexit becomes more and more obvious, I cannot believe that anyone who calls themselves a socialist, is not appalled. It’s probably too much to ask the self-absorbed, self-deluded, ultra-sectarian groups that comprise the pro-Brexit “left” to simply admit that you’ve got it wrong, and reverse your disastrous policy on EU membership. That kind of intellectual honesty is not part of your culture. But I think internationalists and anti-racists do have the right to demand that you make it clear that you support free movement, oppose a “hard” Brexit and support the maximum possible degree of co-operation and integration between British and European people (and, in particular, workers via their organisations) in or out of the EU.

Is that too much to ask, comrades?

JD

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Contemporary Left Antisemitism – David Hirsh’s Manchester book launch

September 3, 2017 at 1:30 pm (anti-semitism, left, publications, Racism, reactionay "anti-imperialism", socialism)

By Richard Gold (Engage)

Hear David Hirsh talk about the book, ask questions, buy a signed copy

Sunday, September 24, 2017 from 7:00 PM to 9:00 PM

Follow this link for more details and to get your free ticket. (no admittance without a ticket).

Antisemitism on the left is difficult to recognize because it does not come dressed in a Nazi uniform and it does not openly proclaim its hatred or fear of Jews. This book looks at the kind of antisemitism which is tolerated in apparently democratic spaces.  It tells the story of the rise of the Jeremy Corbyn and his faction in the Labour Party; and it explains the controversy around Ken Livingstone. It analyses how criticism of Israel can mushroom into antisemitism and it looks at struggles over how antisemitism is defined. It focuses on ways in which those who raise the issue of antisemitism are often accused of doing so in bad faith in an attempt to silence or to smear. Hostility to Israel has become a signifier of identity, connected to opposition to imperialism, neo-liberalism and global capitalism; the ‘community of the good’ takes on toxic ways of imagining most living Jewish people.

The book combines narrative and case study with sociological analysis and theory to understand the controversial and contested phenomenon of antisemitism on the left.  It is not a critique of the left but a contemporary history of how things may go wrong.  It stands in the tradition of those on the left who have always understood and opposed the temptation to picture the evils of capitalism, modernity and imperialism as being intimately connected to the Jews and to their imputed behaviour.

Follow this link for some nice endorsements of the book

Follow this link to see details of other events David Hirsh is doing.  

Follow this link for Dale Street’s review of the book.

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Contemporary Left Antisemitism: a review

August 25, 2017 at 2:35 am (anti-semitism, civil rights, conspiracy theories, labour party, left, reformism, stalinism, zionism)


Above: Dave Hirsh on left anti-Semitism and the Chakrabarti Inquiry 

Dale Street reviews Contemporary Left Antisemitism by Dave Hirsh (Routledge).


This is the third book on the theme of left antisemitism to have been published in less than twelve months. It follows Dave Rich’s The Left’s Jewish Problem – Jeremy Corbyn, Israel and Anti-Semitism (published in September 2016) and Antisemitism and the Left – On the Return of the Jewish Question by Bob Fine and Phil Spencer (published in February 2017).

Different aspects of left antisemitism and how it manifests itself today are covered in different chapters of Hirsh’s book: The “Livingstone Formulation”; the Labour Party since Corbyn’s election as party leader; the campaign for an academic boycott of Israel; conflicts over definitions of antisemitism; the nature of contemporary antizionism; and antizionism within the Jewish community. (Hirsh’s orthography is deliberate. He uses the terms “antizionism”, not “anti-Zionism”, to make a political point. What passes itself off today as a critique of Zionism has got nothing to do with real-world Zionism. As such, it is not anti-Zionism, nor even a form of anti-Zionism.)

Although discreet aspects of contemporary left antisemitism are covered in the different chapters of the book, a number of common themes run through all of them. Hirsh locates today’s left antisemitism within the broader context of the political degeneration and ossification of (broad layers of) the left. That left exists in a binary political universe: good nations and bad nations; oppressor and oppressed nations; imperialism and “anti-imperialism”; white people and people of colour. The universality of class politics has been replaced by the politics of “campism”. Rational political argument has been replaced by a “politics of position”.

Anyone positioned in the wrong “camp” is to be denounced rather than reasoned with. This, argues Hirsh, represents a reversion to the political practices of early-twentieth-century totalitarian movements. Such a world view is conducive to a particular interpretation of the Israel-Palestine conflict, which, in turn, is conducive to antisemitic ways of thinking and antisemitic consequences.

Israel is in the camp of bad, white, imperialist, oppressor nations. Palestinians constitute the antithesis of Israel. To be “of the left” is to be on the side of the Palestinians and against Israel — not just the policies pursued by its government but its very existence. This demonisation of Israel — which itself constitutes an expression of left antisemitism — opens the door to traditional antisemitic tropes. Jews are uniquely cruel — they murder children in particular and are committing genocide of the Palestinians. They are uniquely powerful — they control US foreign policy and the global media. And they are uniquely dishonest — they cry “antisemitism” to avoid being called to account for their crimes. Indeed, they are so uniquely evil that they alone of all the peoples of the world cannot be allowed to exercise national self-determination.

Of all the states in the world, the Jewish one alone is singled out for (the traditional antisemitic “strategy” of) boycott and ghettoisation. Similarly, of all of the nationalisms in the world, the Jewish one — Zionism — is uniquely evil. It is racist, genocidal and akin to Nazism. Hirsh uses the expression “flattening”: The different currents within Zionism, the historical context of the emergence and development of Zionism, and the distinction which socialists otherwise make between state and people are all “flattened” in order to create an essentialist interpretation of Zionism and “the Zionist state”.

But the result is not a critique of real-world Zionism. It is an ideology of antizionism which justifies its politics by reference to a “Zionism” of its creation. Hirsh also makes the point that there is a world of difference between opposition to Zionism before and after the creation of Israel. The former was opposition to a political idea. The latter entails opposition to the existence of the state in which the Zionist project has been realised.

Arguments that such an approach to the Israel-Palestine conflict are antisemitic in substance and in consequence are brushed aside by their opponents through invocation of the “Livingstone Formulation”, to which Hirsh devotes an entire chapter. (Named after Ken Livingstone. Not because he invented it — he did not — but because of the level of egregiousness and notoriety which his use of the Formulation has achieved.) The “Livingstone Formulation” can be summed up as “I am not antisemitic and have not done or said anything antisemitic. You are accusing me of such things only because of my entirely legitimate criticisms of Israel.”

This is not simply a modern manifestation of an antisemitic trope (that Jews raise accusations of antisemitism in bad faith). It also shuts down any space for rational argument — because it rules out a priori any need to assess the validity of this “bad-faith” claim of antisemitism.

Corbyn’s election as Labour Party leader makes this left antizionist antisemitism a contemporary issue, not in some general sense but in a very immediate sense, for three particular reasons. Corbyn himself belongs, at least in part, to that tradition, as is evidenced by his support for the “anti-imperialist” Stop the War Coalition, his involvement in the “Deir Yassin Remembered” campaign, his defence of Raed Salah and Steven Sizer, and his attitude to Hamas and Hizbollah. A broad layer of Corbyn’s rank-and-file supporters share to some degree the left antizionist approach to the Israel-Palestine conflict and its antisemitic consequences. Some of them do more than just share that approach. They energetically promote it. And the Labour Party under Corbyn has to date failed to politically confront the issue, as is exemplified in particular by the Chakrabarti Inquiry of 2016.

Chakrabarti’s superficial conclusion was that manifestations of antisemitism in the Labour Party were just the classic case of a few bad apples, rather than something rooted in a widely shared set of political assumptions.

Hirsh describes his book as “among other things, a gathering together and a distillation of the work I have been doing over the last decade.” The fact that some readers will already be familiar with the book’s arguments from earlier articles by its author does not reduce its political value. In fact, some of the most damning material in the book is not Hirsh’s general political analysis of left antisemitism but the “micro-descriptions” of the abuse and harassment meted out to members of the UCU trade union who argued against an academic boycott of Israel. But there are some issues in the book which are either open to challenge or would have merited further exploration and explanation.

Hirsh rightly points to the prevalence of left antisemitism on the British left and in the broader labour movement. But he goes a lot further: “It is not accidental that the issue of antisemitism has become pivotal to this process of defining who is inside (‘the community of the good’, to use Hirsh’s expression) and who is not.” Hirsh seems to be saying that an acceptance of antizionism has become the decisive test for membership of the left. But this claim does not stand up to scrutiny.

Just as antizionism essentialises Zionism, so too Hirsh seems to be essentialising the contemporary left. Hirsh hints at a dystopic future for the Labour left and the Labour Party. The Corbyn phenomenon is “not currently a physically violent movement.” Opponents of antizionism are “not yet, in the Corbyn Labour Party, (dealt with) by physical violence.” Corbyn’s election as Prime Minister “might” see an increase in “the denouncing of most Jews as pro-apartheid or as defenders of racism and neoliberalism.” If these sibylline musings are meant seriously, they should surely have been substantially expanded upon. As they stand, they merely provide an easy target for those who want to condemn the book without engaging with its core arguments.

These momentary visions of the use of totalitarian physical violence to crush political dissent and the unleashing of government-sanctioned antisemitic campaigns also sit uneasily with Hirsh’s lesser-evilist approach to the election of a Labour or a Tory government: “In this context (of a choice between two variants of populism), of course, it is quite legitimate to prefer Labour populism to Tory populism.”

In dealing with antizionism within the Jewish community Hirsh tends to focus on individuals who have been prominent in debates in academia. Antizionist Jews with a high profile in promoting left antisemitism in the labour movement are hardly mentioned (save in relation to the UCU). Tony Greenstein, for example, escapes scrutiny entirely, even if he makes an anonymous appearance at page 113 of the book: “Some of those activists who had already been making the same speeches about Israel for thirty years suddenly found themselves being given huge standing ovations at union conferences for speeches in favour of boycotting Israel.” And while it is understandable that a senior lecturer in sociology might want to sing the praises of sociology, the chapter which portrays sociology as a key to understanding antisemitism (“Sociological Method and Antisemitism”) really makes little contribution to an understanding. (In any case, it would have been more appropriately entitled: “I Used To Be a Trotskyist. But Then I Discovered Sociology.”)

Like any other writer, Hirsh could use only the material available to him at the time of writing his book. Thus, the Ken Livingstone of his book is simply someone who thinks that Hitler supported Zionism (until he went mad). Jackie Walker did no more than use some unfortunate turns of phrase in a Facebook post and in an intervention at a Labour Party fringe meeting. And Bongani Masuku is a heroic South African trade unionist unjustly accused of antisemitism. But by the time of the book’s publication earlier this month, things had moved on.

Livingstone was alleging “real collaboration” between Nazis and Zionists, with the big-hearted Nazis supposedly acceding to Zionist requests for help with training camps, weapons and banning sermons in Yiddish. Walker was likening her treatment to that of a black lynching in the Jim Crow states, claiming that she had been targeted (by Zionists, of course) in “an attempt to destroy Jeremy Corbyn and an entire political movement.” And Bongani Masuku had been found guilty of antisemitic hate speech by the South African Equality Court, while the trade union federation of which he was an employee surreally denounced the verdict as an attack on “workers’ rights to offer solidarity.”

That’s sums up the problem with writing a book about contemporary left antisemitism: By the time of its publication, the examples which it cites have become examples of yesterday’s left antisemitism. Hirsh’s book is a valuable contribution to understanding the forms and nature of left antisemitism. It provides not just a better understanding of the phenomenon but also a political challenge to its influence. His book is the third book on the same theme in less than a year. It would be surprising if it was not followed by at least another three over the next twelve months.

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Venezuela, Corbyn and Labour MPs

August 7, 2017 at 7:00 pm (democracy, labour party, Latin America, left, posted by JD, protest, reformism, riots, solidarity)

The following discussion article was published by The Clarion a few days ago, before Corbyn’s statement today.  Comments are invited both here and at The Clarion (see bottom of this post). Coatesy provides an excellent survey of other leftist views re events in Venezuela, here.

Venezuela, Corbyn and Labour MPs
By Sacha Ismail

On 2 August the main headline on the front page of the Times read: “Labour MPs urge Corbyn to condemn Venezuela”! Labour MPs are using the crisis in Venezuela to have a fresh pop at Corbyn.

No doubt some Labour MPs are genuinely concerned about human rights abuses in Venezuela. But the campaign as a whole is both bad politically and deeply hypocritical.

I don’t say that because I am a fan of the Maduro government. I do not believe it is socialist – socialism or even a workers’ government can only be created by the self-organisation of the working class, not Bonapartist type populist regimes. Moreover in the recent period Maduro has taken an even more authoritarian turn, with many of the social gains made under the government of Hugo Chavez – also not socialist – in danger or already gone (see this statement by Venezuelan socialist organisation Marea Socialista for a useful explanation). We should be supporting Venezuela’s beleaguered but substantial labour movement and particularly the wing of it critical of Chavismo from the left – not the government.

 A protester throws rocks during clashes with Venezuelan security forces near a military base, which was attacked by rebels on Sunday. A protester throws rocks during clashes with Venezuelan security forces near a military base, which was attacked by rebel soldiers on Sunday. Photograph: Andres Martinez Casares/Reuters

But despite this and despite human rights abuses which are almost certainly taking place and getting worse – and which we should not be afraid to criticise – the dominant forces of the Venezuelan opposition do not represent a better alternative. Despite undoubtedly having some popular support, they are a right-wing, anti-democratic movement which is using popular dissatisfaction and supposed concern for democracy as a cover for its real agenda. They collaborate with a US government that has long sought to overthrow the “Bolivarian” regime for old-fashioned capitalist and imperialist reasons.

The current movement is the descendent, so to speak, of the right-wing coup against Chavez in 2002, which was defeated by mass popular mobilisation. The cause of democracy and the working class will be set back if it succeeds.

We can also question to what extent many Labour MPs are motivated by genuine concern for democracy and human rights. They seem determined to ignore the fact that the Labour Party leadership has issued statements criticising the Venezuelan government (through shadow foreign office ministers Emily Thornberry and Liz McInnes, admittedly, not Corbyn – but Corbyn’s spokesperson has endorsed them). Is their problem that it is insufficiently enthusiastic about the right-wing Venezuelan opposition, or do they just not care about the facts at all?

And in addition to the Labour right’s silence about the nature of the Venezuelan opposition, the right-wing MPs’ broader record speaks for itself.

Many of those leading the charge against Corbyn on Venezuela broke the whip and abstained when the Labour Party pushed to end British support for the disgusting Saudi war in Yemen – something I am still genuinely slightly astonished by. Angela Smith, the All Party Parliamentary Group on Venezuela member quoted widely in the press today, is a case in point. (She also abstained on the Welfare Bill, in case you were wondering.) Such people support “democracy” as long it serves the interests of British capitalism and the Western powers. Labour MPs supporting Narendra Modi when he came to the UK was another shocking example.

Perhaps Corbyn could do more to use his influence to stop human rights abuses by the Venezuelan government. I’m sure, judging by his previous statements, that he has illusions in Venezuela along with other “progressive”, “anti-imperialist” developing world regimes. That’s something The Clarion might look at in the near future. But this campaign to condemn him over Venezuela is fairly absurd and in many ways disgraceful.

Let us know what you think? Write a reply? theclarionmag@gmail.com

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Stalinist iconography is not acceptable

July 24, 2017 at 8:10 pm (AWL, labour party, left, posted by JD, reformism, stalinism, thuggery, youth)

Groups help banners with Stalin’s face on

By Cathy Nugent (of Workers Liberty)

In the recent past there has been a minor craze in and around the Labour left for using 1930s Stalinist iconography. This craze, based in social media, ranges from the use of Stalinist socialist realist “art” to images and memes attacking Trotskyists, including ice-picks emojis etc. Some people, so we understand, who volunteer for Momentum like to use jargon attacking Trotskyists, taken from these social media exchanges, such as “Clear Them Out”. They mean that people who support Workers’ Liberty or Socialist Appeal should be expelled from the Labour Party.

In an effort to draw attention to this phenomena, we commented here on a recent example of Stalinist “theatre”, where a prominent member of the Labour left wore a badge saying “Goodnight Trotskyite”, showing a figure being stabbed with an ice-pick — a reference to the murder of Trotsky by Stalin’s assassin Ramón Mercader.

That person apologised. Others, some “satirical Stalinists” around the Facebook page “Red London”, in an attempt, I guess, to defend their right to wield the virtual ice-pick, responded with something more toxic and slanderous in character. They made claims (and not for the first time) of paedophilia against the AWL, based on selectively quoting from two of our articles, both of which were serious discussions about how the tackle the problem of child abuse! They also tried to make fun of a 15-year old comrade of ours by posting a nasty comment about his fundraising activity. Apologising shortly afterwards, they continued to maintain that the dog-walk, advertised on a charity crowdfunding site, was intrinsically funny, thus continuing to ridicule this young man’s endeavours. The Labour left platform Red Labour commented here on this, arguing effectively why Red London are really very unfunny.

We are not thought police, we have no wish to, nor could we, ban this iconography and group-think. Jokes and memes have their place in the movement, as they have in life. However, we believe it is time to spell out the political implications of the Stalinist craze.

It has been said that real Stalinists – people that adhere to the state ideology of the Soviet Union from the1930s onwards – no longer exist. That very few people in the UK labour movement believe the Soviet Union was a socialist utopia. Pretend Stalinism is therefore fairly “safe” silliness. Not so.

There are small groups of people who are proudly Stalinist. Some of them are very influential: ex-Guardian journalist Seamus Milne and Andrew Murray, chief of staff of the Unite union, are both central to the Labour leadership’s inner circle. Both were members of a former Stalinist sect “Straight Left”, and they have not changed their views. Then there are groups like Red London, and individuals who operate at a very different level to Milne and Murray. (And, to be clear Corbyn himself is not a carbon copy of his advisors, and, always deals with political disputes in a comradely way.)

The likes of Red London use hateful trolling because they know it will be both tolerated and feared, or rather it will be tolerated because it is feared. Nobody wants to get in their way of their slanders. But they get their tactics of abuse and slander, some of it very personal, straight out of the High Stalinist playbook.

Many of today’s Stalinists and semi-Stalinists are inculcated into their views, and an operating policy of slander and lies, through a simplistic world view. For example, that the Soviet Union was a mighty power against Hitler and against American imperialism. That the Soviet Union was a great ally of small and oppressed nations. People, such as ourselves, Trotskyists in general, some anarchists and left libertarians, or anyone who challenges these views are regarded as being on the “other side” of a political binary. We are enemies, collaborators, sometimes we “have right-wing handlers” etc, etc.

Simplistic views are often seductive. Moreover “campist” views have many ways to become operational in contemporary politics. In the Stop the War Coalition, for instance, which for many years, under the influence of George Galloway, refused to make solidarity with Iraqi trade unionists because, they did not show sufficient “vigilence” against the US occupation. The Stalinist “register” can be a useful way to dress-up right wing ideas in left-wing garb, e.g. when taking up an anti-migrant line. As we argued elsewhere: “The Article 50 fiasco, and the Labour leaders’ waffle about a ‘People’s Brexit’, cannot but have been shaped by nationalist anti-EU prejudices in the Stalinist-influenced left. Stalinist bureaucratic manipulation fits with the Blairite heritage: “policy development” means not debate in the rank and file leading up to conference decisions, but formulas handed down by clever people in the Leader’s Office.”

Stalinism was the ideology of ruling-classes which for over fifty years had a powerful influence in the world. That is why it still has historical weight, still shapes political consensus on the left and is still grasped at by people trying to make sense of the world. It is one of the reasons why it is difficult to make arguments against Stalinism, and why Trotskyists look like “outsiders”, who, by not accepting this consensus, are trying to make life difficult for everyone else.

These views are seductive in another way. Unfortunately, because today’s Stalinist current is associated with people who have some power who have some influence in the labour movement, it has becomes popular, or tolerable to some newer people seeking to integrate themselves or to win positions in the labour movement.

Much more can be said, and should be said about how the Soviet ruling class brutally repressed the working-class and cauterised labour movements around the world using the language of Marxism and socialism as it’s ideology. To repeat, it was a powerful movement and the residual notion that it was somehow the champion of the oppressed not only lingers on, but is being renewed and can be renewed further through by helping to give Stalinist iconography currency. Unfortunately, that is how history works: residual ideas, the action plans of the dead, come back into circulation to serve the purposes of the living. As Marx said, “The tradition of all dead generations weighs like a nightmare on the brains of the living.”

We must continually remind ourselves what this Soviet ruling class was and what it did: of the gulags it built, how it systematically murdered all its political opponents, its callous indifference to mass starvation as a result of its economic plans, at the licensed mass-raping of German women for revenge at the end of the Second World War. And so on. All of these historical events and many more are backed up by serious research and evidence; we have no excuse not to be clear on these points.

Workers’ Liberty often works with people who were members of or influenced by the Communist Party (Morning Star) in labour movement campaigns. Twenty years ago we worked closely with such people, and for a long-time very productively, in the Welfare State Network. But we never told ourselves lies about their political views, nor stood back from stating what and abuse.

Simplistic views are often seductive. Moreover “campist” views have many ways to become operational in contemporary politics. In the Stop the War Coalition, for instance, which for many years, under the influence of George Galloway, refused to make solidarity with Iraqi trade unionists because, they did not show sufficient “vigilence” against the US occupation. The Stalinist “register” can be a useful way to dress-up right wing ideas in left-wing garb, e.g. when taking up an anti-migrant line. As we argued elsewhere: “The Article 50 fiasco, and the Labour leaders’ waffle about a ‘People’s Brexit’, cannot but have been shaped by nationalist anti-EU prejudices in the Stalinist-influenced left. Stalinist bureaucratic manipulation fits with the Blairite heritage: “policy development” means not debate in the rank and file leading up to conference decisions, but formulas handed down by clever people in the Leader’s Office.”

Stalinism was the ideology of ruling-classes which for over fifty years had a powerful influence in the world. That is why it still has historical weight, still shapes political consensus on the left and is still grasped at by people trying to make sense of the world. It is one of the reasons why it is difficult to make arguments against Stalinism, and why Trotskyists look like “outsiders”, who, by not accepting this consensus, are trying to make life difficult for everyone else.

These views are seductive in another way. Unfortunately, because today’s Stalinist current is associated with people who have some power who have some influence in the labour movement, it has becomes popular, or tolerable to some newer people seeking to integrate themselves or to win positions in the labour movement.

Much more can be said, and should be said about how the Soviet ruling class brutally repressed the working-class and cauterised labour movements around the world using the language of Marxism and socialism as it’s ideology. To repeat, it was a powerful movement and the residual notion that it was somehow the champion of the oppressed not only lingers on, but is being renewed and can be renewed further through by helping to give Stalinist iconography currency. Unfortunately, that is how history works: residual ideas, the action plans of the dead, come back into circulation to serve the purposes of the living. As Marx said, “The tradition of all dead generations weighs like a nightmare on the brains of the living.”

We must continually remind ourselves what this Soviet ruling class was and what it did: of the gulags it built, how it systematically murdered all its political opponents, its callous indifference to mass starvation as a result of its economic plans, at the licensed mass-raping of German women for revenge at the end of the Second World War. And so on. All of these historical events and many more are backed up by serious research and evidence; we have no excuse not to be clear on these points.

Workers’ Liberty often works with people who were members of or influenced by the Communist Party (Morning Star) in labour movement campaigns. Twenty years ago we worked closely with such people, and for a long-time very productively, in the Welfare State Network. But we never told ourselves lies about their political views, nor stood back from stating what is wrong with those views. Therefore we think we are in a good position to appeal to people on the left, people who maybe regard themselves as “not Leninist”, or who are not sure about whether there is a role for Marxist ideas in the Labour Party, not to laugh along with the anti-Trotskyist jokes, but rather, to try to encourage debate on the underlying issues.

There is a wide spectrum of political traditions and current political beliefs among the people who now want to change the world and see it cleansed of oppression and exploitation. Many of us, including ourselves, see a great opportunity to fight back against oppression in a Corbyn-led Labour government. To make a good job of that opportunity we do need to unite, but not by way of dealing with our differences through abuse and puerile behaviour. Fighting to make the most of these opportunities means opening up thoughtful and comradely debate at every level, including on social media.

We need a movement that takes the historical crimes of Stalinism seriously and recognises its current manifestations. We need to be able to debate the historical record, from whatever our point of view, without fear of slander and abuse.

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Matgamna’s picture of the revolutionary left in disarray

July 19, 2017 at 3:24 pm (AWL, left, liberation, Marxism, political groups, posted by JD, publications, reactionay "anti-imperialism", revolution, Shachtman, socialism, stalinism, trotskyism)

Paul Hampton of the AWL reviews The Left in Disarray by Sean Matgamna

Why is the revolutionary left in such a mess today, despite the economic problems of the last decade, the crises of many neoliberal states, the enormous size of the global waged working class, the potential power of the trade union movement and the signs of revival in left politics? The answers to why the Marxist left is in such a state are comprehensively hammered home in this collection of essays. The book is a tour de force history of the revolutionary left over the past one hundred years. The short answer is: Stalinism.

But the syphilis of Stalinism is not only about the states that were or still are ruled by Stalinists. It is also about how the ideology of Stalinism has taken root even among the anti-Stalinist and social democratic left. Sloughing off this Stalinism is an essential prerequisite for reviving the authentic Marxist left.

Why disarray? Matgamna tells the story of the degeneration of the revolutionary left with great verve. The revolutionary left that emerged from the 1917 Russian revolution was essentially healthy. It had opposed the First World War and arose triumphant to lead the Russian workers to power. These revolutionaries formed the Communist International, a school of revolutionary strategy that by the early 1920s had built mass communist parties made up of the finest working class militants internationally.

The principal blow came with the isolation of the Russian workers’ state, already depleted by three years of bitter civil war and compounded by the backwardness of the inherited Russian social formation. Concomitantly, no communist party was able to lead the workers to power outside Russia.

The result was the bureaucratisation of the Russian workers’ state. The bureaucratic tentacles strangled the organs of soviet democracy, the trade unions and finally the Bolshevik party — the last living mechanism through which the Russian workers could exercise their rule. The Stalinists “revolution from above” defeated the Left Opposition, imposed forced industrialisation and collectivisation, and destroyed democratic, national and civil rights. After 1928 the new bureaucratic ruling class held the levers of control over the surplus product and inaugurated a totalitarian semi-slave state. After that, the Communist Parties acted as the overseas agents of Russian foreign policy, as well as incipient bureaucratic ruling classes in places where they got a foothold.

The monstrous form of the Stalinist counter-revolution threw most of the revolutionary left back to a state of reactionary anti-capitalism, shorn of working class agency and of the consistently democratic programme they had once espoused. The tiny forces that coalesced around Trotsky put up a spirited rearguard action, keeping alive the flame of authentic Marxism during the 1920s and 1930s. But the Trotskyist movement itself was wrecked on the cusp of the Second World War, its main forces unable to explain the expansion of Stalinism outside of the USSR and later to understand the revival of capitalism in the post-war epoch. Most of the post-Trotsky Trotskyists embraced the Stalinist advance into Eastern Europe, China and beyond as somehow creating “workers’ states” (without the active intervention of workers), or painted despotic post-colonial regimes as somehow the embodiment of permanent revolution.

Matgamna itemises the bitter array of failures in the years after the Second World War. Among the litany of terrible errors were: • Support for North Korea’s war in 1950 • Failure to support the East German workers uprising in 1953 • Uncritical support for the Vietnamese Stalinists • Uncritical support for the Castro Stalinists in Cuba after 1960 • Soft backing for Mao’s Great Leap Forward and Cultural Revolution • Opposition to Israel’s right to exist after the 1967 war • Backing Catholic chauvinism in Northern Ireland • Opposition to the UK joining the European Union from 1971 • Fantasies about the murderous Khmer Rouge in Cambodia • Support for clerical-fascist theocracy in Iran from 1979 • Support for Russia’s murderous war in Afghanistan in 1980 • Support for Argentina’s invasion of the Falklands in 1982 • Backing Iran against Iraq in their sub-imperial conflict during the 1980s • Siding with Saddam Hussein after his invasion of Kuwait 1990-91 • Support for Serbia’s assault on the Kosovars in 1999 • Softness and refusing to condemn Al Qaeda in 2001 • Support for Saddam in the 2003 war • Uncritical backing of Islamist Sunni and Shia militias in Iraq, even as they slaughtered workers.

Matgamna eviscerates the justifications used by sections of the left for these stances. He is scathing about the “anti-imperialism of fools”, a species of “my enemy’s enemy is my friend” that leads to support for despotism under the cover of anti-Americanism. He also denounces “left antisemitism”, defined as the exceptional denial of fundamental national rights to Jewish people (including the right to their own state) and demonisation of all Jewish people for the crimes of the Israeli state.

Sloughing off these rationalisations for reactionary politics is essential for renewing the revolutionary left. Matgamna’s descriptions of the practices and ideologies of the post-Stalinist left are often thought-provoking. The left Stalinist embalming of Lenin is described as the work of a “Leninolator” and of “Lenin-olatry”. The Stalinist picture of the world is “totalitarian utopianism” and the former Trotskyists who capitulated to Stalin “self-depoliticised ex-Bolshevik social engineers”. Liberal interventionist are dubbed “mañana third campists”, their “socialism” always for the distant tomorrow.

The text also has engaging cultural references — tales of Prester John, Kim Philby, slaves crucified on the Appian Way, Marlon Brando and others. Avid followers of the left will enjoy Matgamna’s pen portraits of the principal leaders of the post-war Trotskyist groups in Britain.

Gerry Healy led the SLL and WRP until it exploded after his sexual abuse of members was made public in 1985. By then Healy had sold the organisation to the Libyan, Iraqi, and other Arab states, as an agency to spy on the left and refugees. The Healyites were characterised by their millenarian catastrophism, their frozen words of Trotsky used to justify political lurches, and by gangster politics.

Ernest Mandel was the principal theoretician of the post-Trotsky Fourth International, responsible for rationalising its adaptation to the Stalinist “workers’ states” in Eastern Europe, China, North Korea, Cuba and Vietnam. Mandel died in 1995, a few years after the collapse of Stalinism had destroyed his theoretical edifice, leaving a movement clinging to a venerable name while desperately wondering where the “revolutionary process” had gone.

Ted Grant spawned the current Socialist Party and Socialist Appeal. He redefined socialism as “nationalise the top 200 monopolies” and an enabling act. He peddled the fantasies of “proletarian Bonapartism”, the military substitutes for working-class agency under Stalinism, but also in Syria, Portugal and latterly Venezuela. Grant’s supporters eulogise the capitulation of Liverpool city council while evading concrete political questions with fantasy sloganeering. Grant did not teach his followers to think, but to do political parrot work.

Tony Cliff was a purveyor of toy-town Bolshevism, a man who bent the stick so far on the revolutionary party that the SWP came to represent a parody of third period Stalinist mono-factions. Cliff joked about trying to find your way around the London Underground with a map of the Paris metro, but the legacy he left was more akin to a map of the Moscow sewers. For the SWP, nothing is forbidden in pursuit of organisational advantage. This makes for an increasingly incoherent group that is now a galaxy away from the Marxism of its origins.

If the history of the left is so miserable, what examples of hope are there? There is much to learn from the small third camp Trotskyist tradition around Max Shachtman and Hal Draper which survived during the 1940s and 1950s. Some of the left have sobered up over Syria, where few socialists could support the Daesh terror even by implication, and where most recoiled from any support for the barbarous Assad regime. Similarly, the Brexit vote saw sections of the left abandon their previous nationalist positions. There is something of a revival in social democratic reformist projects.

The bigger picture includes some disarray among our main enemies, the ruling classes, as illustrated by Trump and May. Most of all, the politics of the AWL provides the most important embodiment of hope.

The AWL has forged a living tradition of rational Marxist politics, with realistic assessments of the great global events of the last half century and a series of interventionist political conclusions aimed at mobilising the working class and transforming the labour movement.

The AWL has renewed the great Marxist tradition from a century ago. We do not start from scratch. All is not lost. Much of the left may be in disarray, but the forces of independent, third camp Marxism are alive. With our help, the new generation of socialists will make this politics their watchword.

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Unite the Union: Whither the United Left?

July 3, 2017 at 9:46 pm (democracy, elections, left, posted by JD, reformism, Unite the union, workers)

Len McCluskey Len McCluskey  Credit: RUSSELL CHEYNE

This article was written immediately after the re-election of Len McCluskey, and before the general election. It has been published on the United Left (UL) website, and Shiraz has held back from publishing it (until now) on the hope that some serious debate would be generated within the UL: that hasn’t happened, so we publish it now in the hope that it will stimulate a debate amongst serious left wing members of Unite: 

WHITHER THE UL?
By Jim Kelly, Chair London & Eastern United Left

Len touched on the need for organisational change at the last UL AGM in Birmingham. An AGM immediately after returning an incumbent UL GS and majority EC would usually be expected to be well attended and vibrant, especially with the GS speaking. The Birmingham meeting certainly did not meet those criteria. Indeed, in my view it fell well short of expectations and continued a decline in both regional & national officers and industrial based activists which has been noticeable for some time

An election wash up meeting organised in L&E shortly after became a forum for a wide-ranging discussion; one which I think is long overdue and continued the discussion first started by Len in Birmingham. Essentially; whither the UL.

This is not a report of the London meeting rather it puts forward my views on some of the key points raised during that discussion. As I was putting this note together I was struck by the fact how little discussion there is within the UL about what we should be doing and what are our limits.  I hope those who attended the London meeting as well as others from around the country will participate in this discussion.  It is only through discussing and clarifying our ideas in the light of experience we will be able to move forward.

Also, there seems to be a distinct lack of vision or strategy or priorities over the next 5 years. For a third time, we have re-elected a left GS, yet how the UL relationship with the GS evolves in his final term will be critical if we are to continue to rebuild a fighting back union in the UK & Ireland.

I understand that many activists are now focused on the return of a Labour government, but there seemed a clear void before May’s announcement of her cut & run general election & Len’s and the left’s victory.

Understanding the GS election
Self-evidently all were happy with the Len’s victory however there were divergent views on interpreting it. Some saw this as a victory in the face of press hostility and Coyne’s vile campaign.  Both true, but the voting figures tell a slightly different story.  Prior to the results the consensus was the left vote would remain static and for Coyne to win his social media campaign would have to mobilise members who don’t usually vote.

This did not happen; Coyne, despite the vast sums of money poured into his campaign, failed to mobilise these layers, it would seem those voting were the traditional voters. It is likely Coyne won the craft vote and McCluskey the rest. (We have no way of knowing why we lost 80,000 plus votes and there seems little point in speculating).  If you want to put our 12% turnout into perspective in 1985 Ron Todd become T&G General Secretary on a 41% turnout.

A simplistic view which blames the right-wing press obscures not only the reality of the numbers voting but fails to place this vote as part of the broader malaise the Left faces. I think this was rightly described in our meeting as a disconnect between activists and members. Yet when some comrades pushed this point I noted that many, probably a majority, did not wish to face up to this.
Yet where else is there to start? Consider this; our Region, like many others, obtained more nominations then ever for Len – nearly all the major workplaces. What else can this tell us than the existence of a disjuncture between activists and members?

The UL: what it is, its limits and what it can become
While we should be pleased about our record as an electoral machine, the question which rightly came to dominate the meeting was can the UL be anything more than an electoral machine? If it can, what else can we do? It seems to me this is the central question which we should be debating in finding our way forward. This is not an easy question to answer and for me the meeting illustrated this, while nearly everyone had a view little light was shed on the matter.

The most coherent attempt came from many comrades who, however gently attempted to shift the UL focus towards a rank and file-ism. Whether a R&F movement / shop steward movement is possible, the UL cannot possibly undertake such a function.  At a minimum, such organisations goal is to hold the union bureaucracy to account, and to get the union to undertake a militant industrial programme.
While the UL can advise & criticise the bureaucracy, it cannot replace it nor hold it to account in the manner put forward, as the UL already runs the bureaucracy and large numbers of UL members are part of the bureaucracy; including of course the GS.  This plays out on a practical level, as one of differentiation illustrated by the LE Region; it is a left-wing region, it supports all strikes and we want to promote members involvement in the Region so the question becomes how can the UL differentiate itself from the Region? The best the meeting could come up with was a banner on picket lines!

Others at the meeting proposed the UL should promote a political programme, a view which fails to take account of who constitutes the UL. What gives many organisations like the UL a political coherence is when they are dominated by a political grouping, for example in the 70s the SWP ran many R&F organisations (I was a member of one of these) while the CP controlled the union Broad lefts.
In each case the R&F / broad left group is where a Party recruits from and projects its ideas into the wider movement. Today we can see a similar relationship between the SP and TUSC. It should be clear that the UL is not dominated by any political grouping consequently it cannot have a coherent political programme.
Again, we can see this practically; at present the UL is largely united around support for the LP yet post-election, if Labour loses and Corbyn goes, I am sure some of the new converts may be off on a new adventure and many others in the UL will be again calling for Unite to disaffiliate. The UL may once again be consumed with a debate about the LP / new Party.

A further consequence of our lack of a political programme makes us extremely vulnerable to being used, and we can see this in two very different ways. First there are those individuals who join the UL to progress within the union. For example, over the last month I have been approach by a few people who have recently got involved in the UL demanding we support them in becoming prospective parliamentary candidates, these people had no track record in the movement and had just joined the UL. Personally, I am disappointed, but not surprised, at this type of behaviour, but I recognise we have no rules which can stop such people signing up.

A different type of problem we face are those who decide to leave the UL for example the Allinson group and after standing against may well want to be readmitted. The cynical & opportunist attacks on our left by BASSA/Unite Alliance are one more example, in my view these types of people should not be tolerated or allowed back in, but need to be vigorously opposed.

But there was another type of activist, genuinely frustrated with the record of EC UL incumbents, who stood as individual Left candidates. This raises the issue of sitting EC delegates not being opposed at reselection.

I am now firmly of the view that if a sitting EC/UL delegate has done a good job they have nothing to fear by being part of a reselection process.

When we turn to the EC elections we need to abandon the present policy. The hustings in a few cases also turned into who could simply bus in the most supporters on the day. I am unsure if there is a better forum for democratic choice, but it’s clear we could tighten up in many areas.

The above then may provide some boundaries which we cannot cross, however we can focus on taking on the disjuncture between Left activists and members. We only have one way of doing this and that is through UL supporters talking to members – UL activists need to become propagandists for Unite the left union.

Boring meetings
Another issue raised at our meeting was the perennial problem of the boring nature of UL meetings, (some comrades raising this may want to reflect on their contribution to this problem). I am not alone in having had to chair meetings where a small group often can be like broken gramophone records, repeating choreographed mantras, and raising issues which many industrial activists do not instantly relate to. This can often be one reason many good industrial activists fail to be energised and do not return.

At a time when some branches struggle to raise a quorum for monthly or even quarterly meetings; when the best attended meetings are usually linked into action in the workplace or against an employer, what would motivate hard working activists to attend a regular UL meeting, if many do not see the need or importance of attending their own branch meetings on a regular basis?

It is also clear that many UL supporters attending both national or regional meetings see the UL meeting as a substitute branch meeting. If UL meetings are to help develop a new cadre of activists perhaps our meetings should be based on sectors or other industrial criteria, such as the ideas developing around a UL Bus workers group in L&E?

Already UL activists on the buses in London are developing this, the main aim of which is to reach out to new activists, some of whom will not hold union positions. Industrial issues are being promoted in tandem by UL supporters to address issues facing bus workers in TfL.  Issues, such as industrial action and solidarity work may be better prioritised at this type of meeting, maintaining interest levels and more regular attendance. This may also help to isolate any careerist element.

Our committees are reconstituted from June 2018. This type of new periphery needs to be encouraged to become UL supporters, activists and leaders. The UL can make a turn to propagandising in the workplace around the values and ideals of a left union, and in doing so our activists can be developed into workplace leaders. Undertaking this in a consistent and systematic manner will see us begin to address the gap between activists and members. For some this task may seem trivial or an irrelevant matter, however I would argue far from being trivial challenging the disconnect between activists and members is our central task and for those who don’t wish to see this, I would point them again to our election result.

In the short term, we also have sector conferences in November and a policy conference in July 2018 to focus on. Calls for motions for conference should be circulating at the end of the year.

In the medium term unless we make a shift back to our industrial base the issue of who the next UL GS candidate is may be academic.

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