Lansman: the left should stop using the word “Zionism”

May 3, 2016 at 1:38 pm (anti-semitism, conspiracy theories, history, John Rees, left, Middle East, palestine, posted by JD, reactionay "anti-imperialism", zionism)

Mapam campaign poster 1944
Mapam (left-Zionist) poster 1944

Jon Lansman, long-standing Labour leftist and founder-member of Momentum, has written a piece for Left Futures blog, arguing that the left’s habitual use of the word “Zionism” is unhelpful and counter-productive.

The latter part of his article is good. But much of the article – inconsistently with the latter part – seems to suggest no more than a change of language (don’t say Zionist – say Israeli nationalist).

The problem with that becomes clear when he quotes Jacqueline Rose’s suggestion that instead of saying Zionism equals apartheid, people should say: Israeli nationalism equals apartheid. Would it be acceptable, by analogy, to say: German nationalism (necessarily) equals the Holocaust?

And the upshot of ‘Israeli nationalism equals apartheid’ is no different from the upshot of ‘Zionism equals apartheid’, i.e. boycott Israel.

Rose was one of the instigators of the academic boycott. There’s a lot of articles explaining what’s wrong with her politics on the Engage website.

Lansman also buys into the Rose/Lerman line of drawing a distinction between good (or potentially good) diaspora Jewry and bad Israeli Jewry. Hence his claim that “British Zionists are a world apart from Israeli Zionists”. But still, it’s a thoughtful article that reaches at least one correct conclusion: the left should stop using the word “Zionism” as a pejorative.
_______________________________________________________________________

Why the Left must stop talking about ‘Zionism’

By Jon Lansman

There is every justification for talking about the rights of Palestinians, for campaigning against the profound injustice that has been done to them and for criticising the actions and policies of the Israeli government but there is no defence for antisemitism, whoever makes the accusation. As the Jewish Socialists’ Group (JSG) has rightly argued, “accusations of antisemitism are currently being weaponised to attack the Jeremy Corbyn-led Labour party with claims that Labour has a “problem” of antisemitism.” A group of Jews also wrote to the Guardian this week to add that:

The tiny number of cases of real antisemitism need to be dealt with, but we are proud that the Labour party historically has been in the forefront of the fight against all forms of racism.”

But one of them, David Rosenburg, a leading member of the JSG, also argued on the same day that in spite of efforts to “to deconstruct the ‘problem with antisemitism’“:

Ken Livingstone’s crass intervention yesterday was a massive setback for those efforts, and a free gift to those manipulating the issue for right wing purposes….

My plea to fellow anti-racist, anti-Zionist, socialist activists is: don’t waste any of your precious time today trying to rationalise, defend or explain away Livingstone’s comments, but concentrate on challenging the terms of the debate as set by the right-wing alliance that are exploiting this whole issue.

  • Concentrate on how to persuade and split off those who are genuinely worried about rising antisemitism from those exploiting the issues;
  • Concentrate on showing how the Left can demonstrate that the fight against antisemitism is tied up with the fight against all racism including Islamophobia;
  • Concentrate on exposing how those feigning sympathy for Jews are implicated in racism against others; and
  • Concentrate on ways to ensure free speech and rational debate about the realities of what Zionism and Israeli policy is enacting daily against the Palestinians.

So how do we achieve that? I would argue that it is time for the Left to start talking in a new language – one that expresses our views about Israel, about the policies and actions of its government and about the rights of Palestinians without alienating any of those who might agree with us. It is not necessary to abandon any non-racist criticisms of Israel, however robust they may be, in order to do so.

Why is a new language necessary: because British Jews, most of whom support a Palestinian state (71%), and see the expansion of settlements as a major obstacle to peace (75%) and feel a sense of despair when they are expanded (68%) generally see themselves as “Zionists” (59%) with more who also “possess some traditionally ‘Zionist’ attitudes“) – all figures from The Attitudes of British Jews towards Israel). Zionism takes many forms, and British Zionists (at least those who are Jewish) are a world apart from Israeli Zionists. In Israel, tragically, a plurality of Jews (48% versus 46%) believe “Arabs should be expelled or transferred from Israel” and disagree that “a way can be found for Israel and an independent Palestinian state to coexist peacefully with each other” (45% to 43%) – data from Pew Research Center.

Like Didi Herman at Critical Legal Thinking, Professor of Law at Kent Law School and a Jew who used to describe herself as an anti-zionist but does no longer, I therefore think the Left should stop talking about “Zionism” or “Zionists”. As Herman argues:

Zionism has become a dirty word for many on the left. It has become synonymous with Israel itself, the racist practices of the Israeli state.”

Herman quotes Jacqueline Rose, a Professor of English Literature (whose views on Israel have – completely unreasonably – been described as an “anti-semitic anti-Zionism” by Avner Falk) arguing that “Zionism emerged out of the legitimate desire of a persecuted people for a homeland” and, in spite of her opposition to what she calls “the ‘blood and soil’ form that zionism eventually took in Israel” she also says:

I am not happy, to put it at its most simple, to treat Zionism as an insult. A dirty word”

There is, Herman argues, “a stark reluctance amongst left scholars… to take the history and psychology of Jewish communal survival seriously” and continues:

The identification of a generic Zionism with nothing but racist practice in Israel entrenches an understanding of zionism not just as a dirty word, but as a pariah form of thinking unrelated to any other (except apartheid thinking).”

Far better she says to “use ‘Israeli nationalists’ or ‘Israeli fundamentalists’ or better yet ‘Netanyahu’s regime’ “:

These alternatives won’t provide an easy shorthand in the way ‘Zionism’ does, for example, ‘Israeli nationalism = apartheid’ just doesn’t have the same ring to it, but I suppose that is my point — easy options often sacrifice understanding for rhetorical force.”

Abandoning use of the term “Zionist” will not be enough on its own. There needs to be clarity, guidance and even training about what is appropriate. Unfortunately, we will not be able to have a rational debate about how to change the terms of the current debate unless we are also able to open our minds to the possibility, regardless of who points it out or their motive for doing so, that people on the left may also demonstrate some prejudice of their own.

So consider this by John Rees of Stop the War whose comment was shared on the Young Jewish Left closed Facebook page — copied because “it needs some comment“:

Was rung up this evening by some semi-educated BBC producer asking if I’d come on and debate a troll on the issue of ‘Is the left anti-Semitic?‘ I said that as a follower of the most famous political Jew of the 19th century and the most famous political Jew of the 20th century, and as someone who learnt my anti-Zionist politics from a Palestinian Jew called Ygael Gluckstein, it was an insult to even ask me that question. And that as someone who has opposed the fascists, especially when their main target was Jews not, as it is now, Muslims I’m not participating in a debate whose purpose is to demonise the left.”

Julia Bard, another leading member of the JSG who signed the Guardian letter, commented:

I can see why he might not have wanted to participate in the debate on the terms offered, but to imply that being a follower of Karl Marx or Tony Cliff, who were Jewish, somehow immunises him against antisemitism, comes perilously close to “Some of my best friends are Jews.”

And to assert that because the Left is committed to anti-racism, no one within it is susceptible to a powerful racist ideology with centuries-long roots in European culture, would suggest that socialist movements (or at least those with the correct line) are populated by paragons of political virtue who have no need to think about or change their views on anything. Does anyone (including John Rees) actually think this? If so, we’ve got more of a problem than I thought.

Come on, comrades. You have nothing to lose but your counter-productive slogans.

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NUS now led by a bizarre kind of “left”

April 21, 2016 at 7:13 pm (anti-semitism, censorship, conspiracy theories, Free Speech, iraq, islamism, israel, Kurds, left, Middle East, palestine, reactionay "anti-imperialism", stalinism, students, zionism)


Above: Bouattia speaks

By Champagne Charlie

Malia Bouattia, the new President of the NUS, stood on a supposedly “left wing”  platform consisting largely of identity politics, simplistic, reactionary anti-imperialism and undifferentiated hostility towards Israel and most of its people in the name of supposed “solidarity” with the Palestinian cause.

Normally, student politics are not of much interest to us at Shiraz, but the politics behind Bouattia’s victory are of significance to the left – and a warning  of what can happen when the serious class struggle left fails to vigorously oppose identity politics and reactionary anti-imperialism.

Bouattia made headlines last year after opposing a motion to the NUS executive condemning Isis and supporing the Kurds, claiming that to do so would be “islamophobic”, “racist” and “imperialist”.

This brought criticism from Kurdish and left wing students, but when the press picked up the story, she responded by whipping up a storm against the proposer of the motion, Workers’ Liberty supporter Daniel Cooper (see Cooper’s statement on this below).

The left majority on the NUS executive has repeatedly discredited itself by taking ridiculous positions – to take one example, voting down support for Palestinian workers fighting Israeli bosses in Israel’s settlements, on the grounds that this would supposedly legitimise the occupation…

On the issue of free speech on campus, which has been a major issue this year, the majority NUS left has been on the wrong side, promoting the idea that suppression of views they don’t approve of, and the promotion of so-called “safe spaces”,  is the way to challenge oppression and backward ideas.

NUS has campaigned against the government’s Prevent programme, but done so by promoting the thoroughly reactionary Islamist campaign Cage. It has helped promote a “left” politics where the idea that Germaine Greer (or indeed, following their rape scandal, the SWP) should be banned from speaking and/or organising on campus, is combined with a sympathetic attitude towards an organisation, Cage, whose central leaders admire the Taliban.

Almost everyone in NUS is in favour of support for the Palestinian struggle. But the unthinking, absolute “anti-Zionism” which all too often shades into a form of political anti-Semitism, does a disservice to the Palestinian cause and can only set back any prospect of a just peace (not that Bouattia & Co want peace – see the video at the top of this post).

The new NUS President is representative of all these problems. Her record is defined not so much by being a leader of struggles as a spokesperson for these kinds of political ideas and positions.

Workers Liberty made many of these points (perhaps slightly more tactfully worded) in a statement, adding:

We remind the movement of this because we believe that Bouattia behaved like a petty and unprincipled factionalist, putting her resentment at her bad luck, her prestige and the chance to attack a political grouping she doesn’t like above the massive issue of the Kurdish struggle. Although the NEC eventually, two months later, passed a motion about Kurdistan, NUS circles spent far more time and energy on the row than on supporting the Kurds. So much for anti-imperialism!

We have little confidence that an NUS led by Malia Bouattia would be more habitable for political minorities and dissenters, more democratic or more serious about political debate and discussion than one led by [the “right wing” incumbent] Megan Dunn.

Workers Liberty, however, decided to give Bouattia critical support against Dunn:

Bouattia and co are more left-wing than Dunn and co on a whole series of class struggle-type issues. In the context of a Tory government attacking all along the line, and important battles against them – junior doctors, other strikes, anti-academies fight, Labour Party struggle – breaking the grip of the old right over NUS is of no small importance. That is why our position is to vote for Malia Bouattia above Megan Dunn – not because we can in any real sense endorse her candidacy, let alone her politics. (Although it is secondary, we also think NUS electing its first black woman, and first Muslim-background, President would be positive.)

Daniel Cooper’s statement on his motion on Iraq, ISIS and the Kurds

I have read on social media various criticisms of my report of the September NUS National Executive Council meeting. Here are some thoughts in response.

Didn’t you go to the press about the NUS Black Students’ Officer, the row about Kurdistan and ISIS?

No. I have had a number of requests from newspapers to comment and I have turned them all down, the ones from the Sun and Daily Mail very rudely. This is because I am a socialist, anti-racist and feminist and have no intention of helping any right-wing campaign. I also have my own experience of being witch-hunted by the political right and the press: in late 2012 and early 2013 there was a major national campaign against me for publicly declining to take part, as ULU Vice President, in a pro-war/pro-imperialist “remembrance” ceremony (see here).

I condemn the press, right and far right attacks on Malia Bouattia, many of which are disgusting examples of racism and sexism.

After I published my report of the September NUS NEC meeting, it was covered by some (left-wing) blogs and then noticed more widely. At that point the story was picked up and repeated, naturally in distorted form, by the right-wing online student paper the Tab, and from there by the mainstream press. It is absurd to suggest I am responsible for this, unless you think people on the left should never publicly criticise each other in case the right makes use of it.

Didn’t you accuse Malia of not condemning ISIS?

No. Read the report. I never said anything of the sort. I objected to Malia opposing the motion on Iraq proposed by me, Shreya Paudel and Clifford Fleming, and responded to her claims that it was Islamophobic and pro-imperialist. Some people have claimed I misrepresented Malia. The only justification I have heard for this is, firstly, that I did not state that Malia condemned ISIS. That is because it was so blindingly obvious: before the right-wing attacks on Malia, the idea that anyone on NUS NEC would not condemn ISIS had not even occurred to me. And, secondly, that I failed to report that Malia offered to support a different motion on Kurdistan at the next NEC if it fitted with her politics. Whether or not I should have reported this or not, it is hardly decisive! Does anyone seriously believe that if I had stated either of these things it would have prevented right wingers distorting and making use of what I wrote?

Why didn’t you talk to Malia about the motion before the meeting?

Firstly, I am under no obligation to consult Malia, who has different politics from me, about what motions I want to submit to the NEC.

Secondly, I did. I specifically sent Malia the motion after it was submitted (she will also have received it as normal in her NEC papers) and asked for her views. She responded saying that she would have liked to be consulted before the motion was submitted, but when I replied and asked for her views on the actual contents of the motion, she did not reply.

Malia and her political allies could have moved amendments in advance, through the normal process, or moved parts to delete particular lines or elements on the day. They didn’t.

I would add that we had submitted a very similar motion to the previous NEC in July (it fell off the agenda for lack of time), so the general contents were available to consider and discuss for even longer than normal, and Malia had ample opportunity to move her own motion about Kurdistan in September. Again, failing that, she could have amended mine.

Isn’t “resolves 5” of the motion (“Encourage students to boycott anyone found to be funding the IS or supplying them with goods, training, travel or soldiers”) Islamophobic? Doesn’t it effectively propose that MI5 spies on Muslim students?

Resolves 5 was a point that Roza Salih, NUS Scotland International Students’ Officer, wanted in the motion. In general (not always), I am opposed to be boycotts as I believe they are ineffective and strip agency of people on the ground to bring change. I also think that there are indeed issues about seeking to establish who ISIS supporters are. I considered removing this line after Roza proposed it, but then didn’t. I should have. If anyone had emailed me stating their opposition to it (or replied to my emails asking for opinions!) I would almost certainly have removed it.

But it’s worth noting that in Bouttia’s speech in the NEC meeting she did not state why she believed the motion to be Islamophobic.

It’s only after the meeting that I have been informed that this particular point was contentious. I am still confused about why, then, it was not amended or deleted from the motion in the meeting itself, rather than opposing the whole motion outright.

I understand that, in a society such as ours, in which anti-Muslim feeling is wide-spread, this point in the motion might be misconstrued. However, it was clearly never intended in this way, by Roza or by me.

I am also curious as to how most of those that opposed the motion, especially on the left, square this with their support for boycotts of Israel.

Why are you attacking the NUS Black Students’ Officer?

I’m not attacking her as a person, much less because she is BSO. I’m expressing a political criticism of a position she took and arguments she made, because I disagree with them.

Why did you single out Malia in your report?

Because she was the person – the only person – who spoke against the motion. There was one speech for and one against – Shreya Paudel and Malia. I moved for another round of speeches, but Toni Pearce, as chair, over-ruled me. That is why that section of my NEC report focuses on Malia’s arguments (plus the tweet from Aaron Kiely celebrating the motion being defeated).

Why did you call Malia a Stalinist?

Again, read the report! I said the political approach she argued in opposing my motion – putting flat opposition to everything US imperialism does above questions of democracy, liberation and working-class struggle, in this case the democratic liberation struggle of the Kurds, as well as Iraqi socialists, feminists and labour activists – was informed by the legacy of Stalinism. I stand by that. That is the real political disagreement here, and one that few if any of my critics seem willing to engage with.

Why have you done this now?

Actually I submitted a similar motion about Iraq in July, for the obvious reason that I was concerned about what was happening in Iraq and Syria. (I have worked and still work closely with Iraqi Kurdish socialists in London.)

Please note: between the two NEC meetings, an almost identical motion to the one defeated at the NEC was passed, I believe unanimously, at NUS’s Scottish Executive Committee, where it was proposed by Roza. I’m not sure, but I think some people voted one way at the Scottish EC and another at the NEC. That’s ok if they genuinely changed their minds because of the arguments, but not ok if they were doing what they thought would make them popular (at both meetings!)

I resubmitted a motion in September because, far from going away, the issue had got bigger and more urgent. That is surely the point of being on NUS NEC: to raise important issues and try to agitate and mobilise people about them.

Support the Kurdish struggle!

That is the absurdity of all this: hardly anyone in NUS, in the leadership or on the left, has done anything to support the Kurdish struggle and other democratic, feminist and working-class struggles against the odds in the Middle East. While hundreds if not thousands of Kurdish students in the UK have taken action to protest against genocide and extreme oppression, their national union is failing them. And in this debate, the voices of Kurdish left activists have been largely ignored.

Right-wing attacks on student activists and officers, particularly attacks on black activists motivated by racism, must be opposed, condemned and fought. At the same time, the fact is that Malia and others on the NEC did the wrong thing when they voted down the Iraq motion at the NEC.

I’d urge everyone to read this interview with Roza Salih about the Kurdish struggle, and get active to support it.

If anyone would like me to respond to a different argument or objection, please feel free to drop me an email: daniel.cooper@nus.org.uk

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Proud to be a Zionist

April 14, 2016 at 8:56 pm (anti-semitism, Eric Lee, history, left, national liberation, palestine, posted by JD, socialism, zionism)

kibbutz gan shmuel

One vision of Zionism: Kibbutz Gan Shmuel, 1950

By Eric Lee

Jeremy Corbyn’s brother recently made headlines by tweeting that “#Zionists can’t cope with anyone supporting rights for #Palestine”. That the tweet took place in the context of a heated discussion about how the Labour Party is coping with increasing allegations of anti-Semitism is not the point.

The point is that the word “Zionist” has become toxic on the British Left, and I have a problem with this. On one of the Sunday morning radio shows, Jonathan Freedland was asked about this. He quoted the Israeli author Amos Oz who said that “Zionist” was like a family name. There always needs to be a first name, such as “Religious Zionist” or “Socialist Zionist”. But Freedland himself, when asked, said he’d rather not use the label “Zionist” to describe his own views as it would just cause confusion. There are really two approaches to dealing with political labels that become toxic.

One is to accept reality and abandon them. The other is to be defiant and embrace them. And there are consequences in the real world to choosing one or another of those options. For example, a generation ago, right-wing politicians in America would label every attempt at social reform, no matter how modest, as “socialism”. (They still do, but with less success.) As the Cold War raged, the word “socialist” had become toxic. We on the American Left would argue that by openly calling ourselves “socialists” we were giving breathing space to liberals, and changing the political discourse in the country. Little did we realize that within a few years, an openly socialist politician would be a serious contender for the Presidency.

Still, there are terms we’ve been forced to abandon. Most leftists I know don’t call themselves “communists”, for example. While we can all claim to embrace the ideas expounded by Marx in the Communist Manifesto, most of us accept that it would cause more confusion than it’s worth to try to claim the word for ourselves. This is helped by the fact that up until 1918, most socialists called themselves “social democrats”, and that the Bolsheviks took on the rarely-used “communist” label to distinguish the new parties they were creating. It was a label we could discard because we had a perfectly good alternative. But this is not the case with the word Zionist.

As Freedland and most others would agree, a Zionist is a person who supports the Jewish people’s right to a national homeland. One could be a Zionist and oppose the current right-wing government in Israel. One could be a Zionist and support an independent Palestinian state, side by the side with Israel. One could oppose the occupation and still be a Zionist. In fact, one could even argue that if you really believe the Jewish people need a state of their own, and want it to survive, you must also support reaching an agreement with the Palestinians to share the land which both peoples claim. There is no other future for the Jewish state that I can imagine.

As a Zionist, I therefore support genuine peace and reconciliation between the two peoples — and a two-state solution to bring an end to the conflict. I am happy to embrace the label “socialist Zionist” and the tradition that represents — the kibbutz movement which for decades was a model democratic socialist society, the struggle by left Zionists including a party I was proud to be a member of (Mapam) against racism and for peace, against religious coercion and for social justice for Jews and Arabs. I could, I guess, go along with Freedland and just call myself “a socialist who supports the right of the Jewish people to their own country” — but why not just embrace the label of “Zionist” instead?


This article appears in the latest issue of Solidarity.

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The sheer stupidity and self-delusion of ‘exit left’

April 13, 2016 at 7:52 pm (CPB, Europe, left, posted by JD, Socialist Party, stalinism, SWP, wankers)


This way to a cul-de-sac

By a London teacher (this article also appears in the present issue of Solidarity and on the Workers Liberty website)

Vote Ukip, get Corbyn!

I have been on the far left for over thirty years, and I’ve seen and heard some pretty strange things.

I have watched women members of a revolutionary socialist group join the back of a segregated Muslim march against Israel. I’ve argued with left-wing British trade unionists who backed the jailing of independent trade unionists in the old USSR. I’ve seen socialists carry “We are Hizbollah” placards, and listened to leftists who refused to condemn 9/11.

These are sincere people, genuinely believing they are doing the right thing. Often they have given many years of their lives fighting for what they hope will be a better world. And yet they have lost the plot. Their immediate actions and views have become seriously detached from the fight for human liberation.

The current left belief that Brexit is a blow against EU racism and will lead to a left shift in British politics is right up there in the Premier League of unreason.

At the National Union of Teachers union conference over the Easter holiday we debated the EU referendum, eventually rejecting Leave the EU by a big majority.

The Communist Party’s Unity bulletin had declared that the EU vote was (despite the words on the ballot paper) about the NHS.

The SWP believe that a vote to leave will be a blow against racism, despite the fact that a tabloid-driven, UKIP-benefiting, wave of racist hysteria will grip the country if Britain votes to leave. The new leader of the Tory Party will preside over a capitalist UK with even more unpleasant immigration restrictions.

Unfortunately the NUT Executive’s amendment which was passed did not advocate staying in the EU and advocated no position on this “divisive issue”. Some speeches urged rejection of the Brexit position because this was a political matter and the union should defend workers, not meddle with politics.

Workers Liberty’s problem with a union adopting a Brexit position is not that it is political, but that it is stupid.

Brexit is an immediate, pressing threat for many workers in the UK. If Britain votes to get out of the EU the first thing which will happen is that the regulations governing the right of EU workers to work here will be seriously worsened.

In my school the cleaners are mainly Portuguese. Some teaching assistants are Spanish. The man in the photocopy room is Polish. The men in the Premises Dept are Eastern European. There are teachers from Ireland, Spain, Eastern Europe and other EU countries. Quite a few students and their families are from Europe. If the NUT had adopted a Brexit policy what would I say to them? The union has concluded that, in order to strike blow against the racism of the EU, we will help an even worse right wing Tory government into office who will then insist you Sod Off Home? What sense could any normal, rational person make of that?

If you are a racist that message might seem reasonable. If you are a white SWPer with a British passport, Brexit might not appear so much of a problem. For everyone else on the left or in the unions it is a serious threat to the working lives of our friends and co-workers.

Nevertheless the SWP and Socialist Party are dimly aware that Leave = more racism. No doubt someone has told them so.

So they have solved their presentational problem by adding an extra delusional twist to their policy. Although Brexit may seem to hand the government on a plate to the Tory right led by Johnson and Gove, in fact it will give us a left Labour government, led by Corbyn. Hey presto! Like magic, like a rabbit from a hat!

In fact, although Brexit would presumably mean Cameron would lose the leadership of his Party, it is unlikely that the government would fall (it would require a no confidence vote). Even if Brexit did lead to an election, given a Leave vote would give a massive boost to the right in British politics the left would hardly be in a position to take advantage. The right would make gains in an election that came after a vote to Leave.

So why do people like the SWP and SP add an extra layer of delusion – vote to Leave and get a Corbyn government! – to shore up their Left Leave position? Because to do otherwise would mean examining their basic framework which says any damage to capitalism and the Tories is good for us. Having a close look at that framework would be difficult and dangerous (because it would lead to an unravelling of a lot of other positions they hold).

They find it easier to plod on, no matter what damage is done to rational left politics

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EU referendum: the left arguments for ‘Out’ and ‘In’

March 19, 2016 at 2:02 pm (class, democracy, Europe, Johnny Lewis, left, Racism, solidarity, unions, workers)

Left wing anti-EU campaigners have, so far made little attempt to argue their case from an explicity pro-working class, or even trade union standpoint. So it is at least refreshing to see Enrico Tortolano attempt to do this in yesterday’s Morning Star. We republish his piece below, followed by a reply from Johnny Lewis:

Lets’s fight on our terms not EU’s

Enrico Tortolano (campaign director, Trade Unionists Against the EU) argues that Britain’s EU referendum on June 23 is not a choice between two bad options but rather a fundamental choice about the kind of society we want to live in


Trade union negotiators spend their lives between a rock and a hard place trying to make the best of bad options.

This can lead to a habit we like to think of as pragmatism — making the best of a bad job.

However, at key historical moments fundamental principles come into the equation. Sometimes we have to aspire above the unacceptable options we are offered.

Britain’s EU referendum is such an occasion. It is not possible to apply a limited pragmatism to such a fundamental issue that touches on our system of justice, democracy, collective rights and our freedoms as workers. We have to express our deeper interests as working-class people.

To say Cameron’s “EU deal” is just as bad as the status quo and in the next breath advocate a vote for Britain to remain in the EU in order to build “another, nicer EU” misses the point. As does former Greece finance minister Yanis Varoufakis, who thinks he can reform the EU — something millions of workers over three decades have found impossible.

It shouldn’t be forgotten he advised the Greek government to accept 70 per cent of the EU austerity memorandum and is responsible for much of the present crisis. His failure to understand the system, to grasp the nature of EU institutions and neoliberalism itself, underlies his utopian illusion.

The EU is not, nor was it ever intended to be, a bastion of workers’ rights, nor to support the struggles for equality of women, minorities or young people.

The desperate plight of working-class communities throughout the EU’s 28 member states is clear. Average unemployment was 8.9 per cent in January 2016 — 10.3 per cent in euro-area countries. Incredibly, this is hailed as a sign of recovery by some EU enthusiasts because it represents a 0.1 per cent reduction from the previous month.

Workers in the EU have been trapped in a prolonged crisis of joblessness and falling real wages for over 15 years.

Since 2000 average EU unemployment rates only fell below 8 per cent — 1 in 12 workers — briefly in 2007-8 only to rise to 12 per cent in 2013, before reverting to EU “normality” of around 10 per cent today.

For millions throughout the EU this has meant their lives have been defined by foodbanks, homelessness, debt and precarious forms of employment.

The intended outcome of German ordoliberal policies applied by EU political elites in the interests of big business is to lower wages, “foster competitiveness” and increase worker insecurity.

TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady (M Star March 9) and some trade union leaders who attempt to put a brave face on what they see as the least bad option, unfortunately risk choosing by far the worst option.

Leaving the EU would tear the Tory Party apart. Of course there would be confrontation, but given the ruthlessness with which they are destroying the welfare state and workplace rights, exiting and taking them down makes sense on all levels. This shouldn’t be outside our movement’s cognitive mapping — the real danger for workers lies in giving up on the idea of meaningful change. EU institutions rule exclusively in the interests of corporations and finance capital and are the main drivers of austerity in our part of the world.

A vote to leave the EU on June 23 would send shockwaves through the global financial architecture and damage its austerity agenda. It would also show British people know the only way to stop TTIP, privatising our NHS and public services, is by leaving the EU. These are precisely the reasons why large corporations, the US and global capital are desperately funding and supporting a campaign for Britain to remain a member of the EU.

This referendum is about class issues, not narrow negotiating issues. If the TUC or European TUC could negotiate a favourable settlement for workers with EU institutions and their masters in the Round Table of Industrialists, why has this not already happened?

This referendum is about whether workers want a future of intergovernmental collaboration based on UN principles of peaceful co-existence and respect for self-determination of nations, or a continuation of the EU’s endless austerity where supranational super-states financialise and privatise all areas of human activity.

In this context, it is anti-internationalist to foster the illusion that Britain outside the EU would suddenly become prey to a demolition of workers’ rights.

This is simply untrue. Decades of EU neoliberal economics have depended on its denial of the most basic of workers’ rights — the right to work. The equivalent of Britain’s entire full-time working population (22.98 million) are unemployed across the EU. It is a low-growth area worsened by EU institutions attacking collective bargaining rights.

Accession states, or countries with odious debt like Greece, have been forced to demolish collective bargaining arrangements as conditions for EU bailouts. The EU as a bastion of women’s rights? Try speaking to working-class Greek, Spanish or Portuguese women resisting the aggressive EU austerity agenda.

The European Court of Justice upholds fundamental EU principles of “free movement” of capital, labour, goods and services. That’s why its rulings automatically trump workers’ rights.

The Viking, Laval and Ruffert cases demonstrate this beyond reasonable doubt. The economic crisis of 2008 was used to push through a raft of policies giving the unelected European Commission the power to veto member governments’ budgets and spending plans.

A concrete road map has been articulated by the EU around an assault on workers’ rights that has led to mass protests in Bulgaria and general strikes in Portugal.

Because some on the left have been starry-eyed about the long-dead myth of “social Europe,” the task of organising real international solidarity with these struggles has been neglected.

Let’s revive the deep internationalism of Britain’s trade union movement. Vote to leave the EU. Make a new world possible.

REPLY:

The left Brexiters are putting workers’ rights in danger – and playing into the hands of the right

By Johnny Lewis (a leading trade unionist)

Comrade Tortolano opens his piece by noting that there are situations for socialists in which fundamental political principles must take precedence over the day to day pragmatism of trade union-style negotiations. In principle, I can agree: I’d argue that getting rid of Trident – even before we have an alternative jobs plan in place – is a case in point. Getting out of the EU most certainly isn’t.

At most, it could be argued that the argument over Brexit v Remain is a dispute between different factions of the ruling class over two alternative strategies for British capitalism, in which the working class has no interest one way or the other. In the past (during the 1975 referendum, for instance), some of us have argued just that, but I will now go on to explain why that approach does not apply in the present referendum campaign, and why trade unionists and the left should argue to remain.

I have argued in a previous piece that those on the left wishing to leave the EU need to be able to answer two questions: whether Brexit will benefit unions and workers in any practical sense, and whether the “left exit” campaign will help develop workers’ consciousness and the left politically. When leaving is put in such sharp terms the idea of a left wing exit rapidly falls apart, particularly around the consequence for unions.

Unions can only progress member’s interests in two ways: industrially and through legislation. As unions’ industrial power has declined so the importance of pro-union and pro-worker legislation has increased. Such legislation creates a floor below which unions and workers’ rights cannot fall. With one major exception (TU recognition) all such post- 1980 legislation originates from the EU.

It is the case our floor of rights is weaker than many other European counties – the result of the way European laws have been introduced in the UK – the Posted Workers Directive being a case in point. Comrade Tortolano cites the Viking, Laval and Ruffert cases as demonstrating “beyond reasonable doubt” his case that  the ECJ’s rulings on the implementation of the Directive is anti-worker: in reality the Directive gives member states latitude to determine what constitutes the minimum rate of pay. The Blair Government set the rate at the minimum wage creating a two tier workforce while in Ireland they linked the Posted workers rate to the ‘going rate’ set by collective bargaining. While we may blame many things on the EU the vast majority of problems unions have with EU legislation is a consequence of how successive UK governments have enacted EU legislation – and in directing their fire at the EU people like Comrade Tortolano in reality let the Tory government and its Coalition and New labour Predecessors off the hook.

However weak the present floor of rights may be, post-exit the Tory Government would have the ideal conditions in which to set about dismantling our present laws, further eroding unions’ abilities to defend members and further worsening workers’ terms and conditions. And the consequence of this dismantling of the floor would almost certainly start a European wide race to the bottom as E.U. countries are forced to compete with the rock bottom wages of UK workers. What possible benefit can unions and workers derive from such a development? On this fundamental level of workers’ rights those who wish to leave do not have a leg to stand and so tend to keep quiet on this pivotal matter, unlike the populist right. In fairness to Comrade Tortolano, he does at least address this crucial issue, but only by denying reality and obscuring the real issues with empty rhetoric (“it is anti-internationalist to foster the illusion that Britain outside the EU would suddenly become prey to a demolition of workers’ rights” etc).

The major argument put forward by the exit camp which directly purports to have workers interest at heart comes from UKIP, though it is hinted at in Comrade Tortolano’s piece, where he complains of the European Court of Justice upholding the principle of “free movement” of labour: that foreign labour has reduced wage rates, hence ending immigration will resolve low pay. Such demagogy shifts the blame for the decline in wages from the employer and government to ‘the foreigner’ it also writes out any role for unions in bidding up wages.

We can see from the floor of rights question to the populist right’s emphasis on immigration of the decline in wages there are no trade union based reasons for exit, unless someone wished to contend the floor of rights was irrelevant or believes (like, incredibly, Comrade Tortolano) the Tories will leave it intact. As for those wishing for a left exit, it is b – to put it mildly – worrying that they come close to blaming migrants for low wages.

Unable to put forward any coherent or convincing trade union-based rationale, those left wingers advocating Brexit can only do so from a political perspective. While it’s quite permissible to claim, as does Comrade Tortolano, that  “It is not possible to apply a limited pragmatism to such a fundamental issue that touches on our system of justice, democracy, collective rights and our freedoms as workers”, he is unable to present any such case, and neither has any other left Brexiter.

The comrade’s rhetoric about “our system of justice, democracy, collective rights” is simply empty guff: as I have stated (above), every single aspect of pro-worker and pro-union legislation in the UK since 1980 (with the exception of TU recognition) originates from the EU. As for “justice”, the EU has forced successive British governments to introduce legislation on parental leave, age discrimination and transgender rights that almost certainly wouldn’t exist otherwise; and in other areas – equal pay, maternity rights, sex, disability and race discrimination, the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights has improved and extended existing laws, making it more difficult for a reactionary UK government to undermine them.

Comrade Tortolano then puts forward the further argument: that “A vote to leave the EU on June 23 would send shockwaves through the global financial architecture and damage its austerity agenda.” Although it is impossible to say what level of destabilisation exit will have on capital we can say with certainty it will have a detrimental impact on unions and the working class. Moreover the impact of a serious downturn caused by exit is likely to have precisely the opposite effect to what people like the comrade believe will happen. Rather than helping the fight against austerity, attacks on unions and workers will be intensified while the labour movement will be divided and unable to respond as a direct consequence of the political chaos exit will sow within its ranks. In truth such chaos will not be down to the left’s intervention, rather an exit victory will build an insurgent populist right and it is that which our movement, including the Labour Party will have to contend with.

The comrade, like all anti-EU leftists, no doubt believes that measures such as renationalising industries or intervening directly in the economy are made impossible by EU membership (I am surprised that this argument is only hinted at in his article): but this is simply not the case – see Article 345 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union, which states: ‘The Treaties shall in no way prejudice the rules in Member States governing the system of property ownership.’

http://eur-lex.europa.eu/legal-content/EN/ALL/?uri=CELEX:12008E345

All across the EU states have majority shares or own and run their own transport and energy sectors. This is confirmed in this 2013 Estep report, commissioned by the EU: http://www.esparama.lt/es_parama_pletra/failai/ESFproduktai/2_UM_valstybes-valdomos-imones_2013-03.pdf

In particular the report states: ‘SOEs are entitled for public services provision, which can be broadly observed in utility sectors such as transport, telecommunications or energy.’

While nationalisation may be restricted it is not banned or illegal. This is a widely-believed  myth, promoted by the anti-EU left. But, for the sake of argument, say it were true: are we seriously suggesting that a Corbyn-led Labour government, elected on a clear democratic mandate and manifesto pledging public ownership of the nation’s railway system and ‘Big Six’ energy companies, would be deterred by the objections of EU bureaucrats? This, incidentally, is where analogies with Greece, Spain and Portugal fall down: the UK has the fifth-largest national economy (and second-largest in EU) measured by nominal GDP: the idea that a left wing UK government could be bullied in the way that Syriza in Greece was is simply preposterous.

Across Europe and North America globalisation is causing a rising level of hopelessness among large sections of the working classes who are being galvanised into activity by the demagogy and programme of the populist right. The common denominator across all these movements, and what roots them in workers consciousness is the appeal to their respective nationalism. That’s why the left Brexiters like Comrade Tortolano are so badly – and dangerously – mistaken. It’s also why people like myself , who in 1975 argued for abstention, now say that in the forthcoming referendum, class conscious workers and all progressive people, must argue, campaign and vote to remain.

The referendum is not simply a matter of being about in or out: it is also an episode in the formation of this new, populist right-wing. Not least because the working class base of the Brexit campaign are not concerned with which model of capital accumulation best suits the UK, or for that matter the recent decline in workers’ rights within the EU: rather the referendum is a lightning rod for hitting back against their real and imagined grievances – politicians not listening, growing impoverishment, or the belief that exit will reverse Britain’s decline – not least by stopping immigration. In voting for exit these workers will not have been influenced by the incoherent arguments of the left rather they will cast their vote bound hand and foot to the reactionary leaders of the Brexit campaign.

The above is not to endorse the EU as it is today – far from it: the one convincing claim that Comrade Tortolano makes against the EU is about its undemocratic nature. In fact those on the left and within the unions who advocate Remain not only largely agree about the limits of the EU but also know what to do about its shortcomings; our problem is we have not done it.

Organising industrially and politically is our answer, it is our answer to the limitations of the Posted Workers Directive, it is our antidote to blaming foreign workers, and on a pan-European level it is our answer to the present limitations of the EU. For those of us who wish to remain we need to use the existing European wide union and political institutions and networks to campaign not only to democratise the EU but also to fight for our Europe a social Europe. Our starting point however is to ensure we stay in.

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The socialist stance on the EU and the referendum

February 21, 2016 at 8:36 pm (AWL, capitalism, class, democracy, Europe, labour party, left, posted by JD, workers)

This article is slightly adapted from the editorial that appeared in the 10 February edition of Solidarity:

On 9 February, in Berlin, former Greek finance minister Yanis Varoufakis launched a new “Democracy in Europe Movement”. It seems not so much a movement as a personal vehicle. But the spirit of its manifesto — demanding, by 2025, a EU constituent assembly that will create a democratic federal Europe — is right. It aims beyond the petty “what’s best for our little corner” or “what’s safest” calculations which dominate the official debate, and dares to restate the old ideals which motivated calls for a United States of Europe as early as the mid-19th century. “A Europe of reason, liberty, tolerance, and imagination, made possible by comprehensive transparency, real solidarity, and authentic democracy”.

The first radical journal which Karl Marx wrote for was called the German-French Yearbooks. He looked to a day when “the day of the German resurrection will be heralded by the crowing of the Gallic cock”. His Communist Manifesto was written for an international organisation, mostly of migrant workers, active in France, in Belgium, in Germany, in England. Marx was educated in German philosophy, learned socialism from French workers, formed the outlines of his distinctive theory in Brussels, and gave most of his life to studying Scottish and English political economy.

The creation, from a continent wrecked for centuries by incessant national and dynastic wars, of a Europe of mutual enrichment, and melded traditions, inspired many other democrats. In all fields, a Europe of cosmopolitan culture, free movement, diminished borders, is an advance not just “for Britain”, or for this or that grouping, but for the whole continent.

To take an offbeat example: as recently as the 1930s, André Weil became an epoch-making figure just because he broke the chauvinist barriers which had stopped French mathematicians learning from German mathematics. There was an equivalent in England in the 1820s: a students’ revolt at Cambridge University was needed to break down the narrowmindedness which had paralysed English mathematics for a hundred years after the death of Isaac Newton, banning the use of “German” notation.

The arrogance, and shameless capitalist dogmatism of the EU leaders, their drive to make the rules of the single market and the eurozone axioms to be enforced by unelected officials whatever the cost to human lives, is drowning those ideals in a quicksand of bureaucratism. And in so doing, it is nourishing narrow-minded reflex responses, nationalism, xenophobia, migrant-hating. Varoufakis is right: “The European Union will be democratised. Or it will disintegrate!” He is also right in his warnings: “If we return to the cocoon of the nation-state, we are going to have a fault line somewhere along the River Rhine and the Alps. Everything to the east of the Rhine and north of the Alps would become depressed economies and the rest of the Europe would be in the territory of stagflation economics, of high unemployment and high prices. “This Europe could even produce a major war or, if not an actual war, so much hardship that nations would turn against each other… We would have condemned the whole world to at least one lost generation. “Out of such an event, I counsel my friends that the Left never benefits. It will always be the ultra-nationalists, the racists, the bigots and Nazis that benefit”.

The mess of the major campaigns aimed at Britain’s EU in-or-out referendum, to be held on 23 June, confirms his judgement. Three campaigns are squabbling over who gets the official Electoral Commission franchise as “the” exit campaign. Vote Leave is run by Dominic Cummings, previously the Tory party’s “director of strategy”, then an adviser to Michael Gove as education minister, notorious for his arrogant abuse even of other Tories and other officials. It is figureheaded by former Tory chancellor Nigel Lawson, who is now mostly active as a climate change-denying crank.

Shamefully, the leading Labour MPs who support exit, Kate Hoey and Kelvin Hopkins, first linked their Labour Leave campaign to Vote Leave. Now Hoey and Hopkins, but not John Mills, the millionaire who’s been financing Labour Leave, have jumped ship to Grassroots Out (GO). Not an improvement, because GO is financed by UKIP millionaire Arron Banks, was founded by two right-wing Tory MPs, and advertises UKIP leader Nigel Farage as a key supporter. Bizarrely, at its recent public meeting in London, GO introduced George Galloway (who some people still consider to be a left-winger) as its surprise “big name” speaker, alongside Farage. GO may merge with the third campaign, Leave.EU, also funded by Banks, also backed by UKIP. If there is a shade of difference between Leave.EU and Vote Leave, it is that Leave.EU is more straight-for-the-nerve anti-migrant and Vote Leave is more for a free-market Britain, free of annoying “over-regulation” (read: worker protections) from the EU.

Although some genuine left-wingers back exit — Kelvin Hopkins is a soft Stalinist who writes for the Morning Star — they have no distinct voice, and figure in this squabble only as backers of this or that Tory/ UKIP faction. That is logical. Re-raising borders between Britain and the EU countries may contribute to the racists’, xenophobes’, and ultra-capitalists’ aims of excluding migrants and destroying worker protections. It cannot possibly contribute to left-wing aims.

On the “in” side, Britain Stronger in Europe has no rival for the official Electoral Commission franchise. It argues that remaining in the EU is good for “stability”, for “security”, for “business”. The message is as uninspiring as a wet sock to the millions whose lives have been made unstable and insecure, and who have been exploited or sacked by “business”, through the global capitalist crash of 2008 and the EU leaders’ management of its sequels in Europe. Labour, anxious not to repeat the fiasco of its merging with the Tories in the Better Together campaign in Scotland, has an independent “in” campaign, Labour In For Britain. But notice that — “for Britain”, not for workers. The campaign is led by Labour right-winger Alan Johnson. Its profile is feeble, and mostly an echo of the arguments of Britain Stronger in Europe, with a quiet footnote about workers’ rights.

Socialists need a campaign which opposes exit from the EU, not in the name of endorsing the existing EU, but in the name of taking it as the start-point for battle to bring down barriers, level up conditions, extend democracy, and weld workers’ solidarity across the continent. In order to do that, Solidarity has initiated the Workers’ Europe campaign, and works with the Another Europe Is Possible campaign.

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The Morning Star’s total confusion on the EU and the referendum

February 16, 2016 at 3:38 pm (class collaboration, Europe, Jim D, left, populism, Racism, stalinism, Tory scum, UKIP)

Above: Farage, Hoey (in red) and various other reactionaries, xenophobes and racists united at the launch of ‘Grassroots Out’

The abject confusion and incoherence of the Morning Star on the subject of the EU, continues apace.

Yesterday’s Morning Star carried an uncritical interview with anti-EU Labour MP (“one of the most prominent campaigners for an exit left” according to the Star) in which she justified her willingness to work with Ukip and “hard-right” Tories like Peter Bone as follows: “The reality is that if you really want to get out, every group has a slightly different perspective, and we can only win this referendum if we can all come together.”

Read the full article here.

In today’s Star, one Matt Widowson complains that “some among this group [the left that opposes Brexit] consider all advocates of exit as anti-progressive; almost Ukipish! We’re not. The left case for exit is progressive and compelling. Unlike the reactionary right it is not based on xenophobic and racist fear-mongering and relies instead on a realistic assessment of the present situation: the capitalist nature of the European Union and the need for national self-determination.”

Read the full article here.

So which is it, comrades? Is your friend Kate Hoey right to advocate an alliance with Ukip and the Tory “hard-right” on the basis that “every group has a slightly different perspective”?

Or is Matt Widowson right when he argues that the “progressive case” for exit has nothing to do with Ukip, xenophobia and racism – and that it’s an “insult” to suggest that it does?

Make your minds up, comrades!

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Report from the first Momentum National Committee

February 9, 2016 at 6:02 pm (labour party, left, posted by JD, socialism)

By Ed Whitby, North East and Cumbria delegate (personal capacity)

On Saturday 6 February, a Momentum National Committee met for the first time in London. Just the fact of Momentum holding its first democratic national representative meeting was a success. The procedure could certainly have been improved – there was not enough time for local groups to prepare properly for the regional meetings, indeed some regions didn’t meet at all, and for both the regional meetings and the NC, many documents were either not presented until the day or circulated at very short notice. Nevertheless in many groups and regions it appears there was a lively process of electing delegates and discussing issues, a process which has helped to draw Momentum together.

In general delegates to the meeting pushed things in the direction of greater democracy and a more radical political line. I will summarise here but also publish some of policy passed, remitted, etc, soon.

A summary of what was decided by the NC

– The basic statement of aims was amended to refer more to socialism and the working class. It is still, in my view, far from adequate, but it was agreed as an interim statement to be reviewed by the Steering Committee for redrafting in consultation with NC members and local groups.
– Momentum is oriented towards organising within Labour, as well as broader campaigning.
– Momentum will become a membership organisation. It will encourage its members to join Labour, but anyone who wants to support Labour and is not a member of a party organisationally opposed to it can join, be a representative, officer, etc.
– Momentum will work with others on the left, who are free to distribute their literature at Momentum public meetings, etc.
– In addition to local groups and regions, there will also be the possibility of specific Momentum campaigning organisations: the document specifically mentioned Momentum NHS.
– We agreed to set up an interim Student and Youth Committee made up of student and youth members of the National Committee and nominations of student and young members from regions and a formal more detailed proposal on this work was referred to the Steering Committee.
– It was reported that some regions were already organising policy conferences, but the proposal for holding regional and national policy conferences was remitted to the Steering Committee for further discussion
– A summary of votes of North East and Cumbria proposals are listed at the end of this report.

National Committee and Steering Committee

The NC meeting was attended by 53 delegates (26 from the regional meetings, 8 equalities reps, 11 from various Labour left groups and 8 from trade unions – Unite, TSSA, CWU, Bakers, ASLEF and FBU). About eight delegates were also members of left organisations not formally represented, including two from my organisation Workers’ Liberty. Copies of Solidarity, Socialist Appeal and Labour Briefing were sold at the meeting: a welcome exchange of left-wing ideas. There were people active in a number of unions not formally represented, eg NUT and PCS, and in campaigning organisations including the People’s Assembly and the National Campaign Against Fees and Cuts.

The NC will meet at least quarterly. It also elected a Steering Committee to meet more regularly and guide the organisation. The eight representatives from England elected to this committee are (designations indicate who they represented at the NC meeting – they were all elected to the SC as individuals): Jill Mountford (London), Michael Chessum (London), Marsha Jane Thompson (Eastern), Jon Lansman (Left Futures), Sam Wheeler (North west), Jackie Walker (LRC), Christine Shawcroft (Labour Briefing Coop) and Cecile Wright (Black and Minority Ethnic).

They will be joined by four trade union representatives, one rep from Scotland and one from Wales.

The membership debate

This was a big debate at the NC. First we agreed to have paid membership; those who don’t join will remain supporters.

There were proposals about who could become a member and who could become a supporter, and what rights these two categories will have.

The lack of time and clarity in advance caused real problems here, in part because the wording of the options was not very clear, but I think the NC did a reasonable job of untangling things.

The three options were:

a. Only Labour Party members can join or even take part in organising / planning meetings as supporters; though local groups can continue to organise joint meetings with other organisations which can be open to non-Labour members.

b. Membership open only to Labour members, but people can be supporters and participate in local groups, voting only on local issues not connected to Labour – as long as they do not support parties against Labour. Only members can stand for office.

c. Membership and supporter status open to any person who supports Labour and doesn’t support other parties which oppose Labour. All members can take part in all decisions, stand for all positions, etc.

The first position received two votes, the second 18 votes and the third 27. I think that was the right decision. People should join the Labour Party, and it is right that Momentum will strongly encourage this; but there are still many people coming to the organisation who for whatever reason haven’t joined yet. We need to encourage and persuade them, not throw up an unnecessary barrier (insisting Momentum members and supporters must not oppose Labour is enough). And we have avoided creating anything like a two-class system of membership.

It also positive that the NC voted, by an overwhelming margin, to allow other organisations to distribute their literature at public meetings and so on. It is right that those who support other parties against Labour cannot join; but that is no reason to create a culture which discourages debate and free exchange of ideas.

Other discussions

There was discussion, and some criticism, about how equality reps (and also the student/youth reps) had been selected. Although there was not a vote on this, there seemed to be general agreement that there should be broad, democratic equalities/liberation networks established who should allow open nominations and to elect delegates to future National Committees as happened with regions.

Michael Chessum proposed a document to create a democratic Momentum Youth and Students organisation. There was wide support for this but it was referred back to the Steering Committee. It was agreed that the youth and student reps on the NC will form a provisional Youth and Student Committee, which the SC will work and consult closely with.

The North East and Cumbria region proposed national and local policy making conferences made up of delegates from local groups. This was remitted to the SC.

The meeting voted by a clear margin not to organise in Northern Ireland. I think this was wrong. The document said that this was in line with, and for the same reasons as, the Labour Party not doing so. But that is factually wrong: the Labour Party does organise in Northern Ireland, it just doesn’t stand candidates. Moreover, the document didn’t spell out what the Labour Party’s reasons are: I would say that they are generally conservative reasons about not upsetting the “normal” operation of sectarian politics. It was argued that people in a British orgnisation shouldn’t decide or comment on Northern Ireland: surely it dictates to tell them they can’t organise a Momentum group even if they want? Anyway, this is something that comrades in NI can best take up.

Momentum Scotland submitted a report on their work. The Scottish comrades amended one document to point out that the Scottish Assembly elections, and not just the 2020 general election, are also important. Momentum NHS also submitted a report, and its activists spoke about groups mobilising for the junior doctors’ picket lines on 10 February.

We accepted a finance report, setting out some outline funding plans and proposals for employing full-time staff (eight posts to be advertised).

Affiliations

Very positively, Matt Wrack from the FBU moved proposals for unions to be able to affiliate to Momentum, including non-Labour affiliated unions if they sign up to Momentum aims.

I proposed an amendment saying that the requirement to agree with Momentum aims and formally affiliate should also apply to Labour left organisations that take a formal role in Momentum. This was agreed.

Campaigning objectives

The documents passed set out a wide range of campaigning objectives, along lines that will be familiar to Momentum supporters. I will post the relevant material soon.

In the discussion on the 16 April People’s Assembly march, which Momentum is building for, Rida Vaquas from Red Labour argued that Momentum should seek to improve and make more radical the draft demands on a number of issues: build council housing; repeal all anti-union laws, legalise solidarity; demand free education and living grants for all students. The original demands were too conservative, in some cases less radical than official Labour policy (eg it just said “Scrap the Trade Union Bill”, when last year’s Labour Party conference voted to legalise solidarity strikes). This was agreed.

There was some discussion on the Centre Left Grass Roots Alliance slate for the NEC, and some criticisms were raised. Althought it was agreed to support it. There was also discussion on Trident and criticism of Corbyn’s suggestion of building just the submarines proposal. Comrades from Socialist Appeal made good contributions on scrapping Trident but defending the jobs and incomes of workers through conversion.

To conclude

For all the problems, I think the National Committee was positive. There was lively discussion and the NC certainly did not act as rubber stamp; on a number of points the documents were amended and the proposed position changed. Moreover a wide variety of people from different sides of various debates were elected to the Steering Committee.

We need to ensure that the Steering Committee meets regular and functions well, establishing real democratic control over Momentum’s operations and working closely with local groups.

Most importantly, Momentum needs
1. To get out on the streets campaigning on big issues in the class struggle, the NHS being one of the most obvious, supporting workers’, anti-austerity, anti-racist and other struggles, and pushing for the Labour Party to do the same.
2. To develop a clear program of demands and initiatives to shake up and transform the Labour Party, involve more people, change and activate policy and crucially democratise the party.

I think we are in a stronger position to do that after Saturday.

Please feel free to get in touch, tell me what you think, or ask questions: edunison@gmail.com

Appendix
Specific proposals from the North East and Cumbria regional meeting – how the NC voted.
1) Change ‘Make Labour a more democratic party’ to ‘Support democracy within the Labour Party”- final wording: “Transform LP into a more open, member-led party with socialist policies and the collective will to implement them in government.
2) Change ‘…with the policies’ to ‘…with the socialist policies’ – see above
3) The National Committee, along with the Regional networks, have responsibility for ensuring that Momentum groups cover every locality and that all supporters/members are connected within groups and regions. – agreed and incorporated
4) The National Committee should be tasked with engaging with special interest groups, such as Momentum NHS. – agreed
5) The National Committee should meet in different regions (not always London) – agreed
6) The National Committee should organise an annual policy making conference with delegates from local groups – deferred to steering committee
7) The regions should be the largest represented group on the National Committee to ensure that there is a strong sense of democracy and representation. – almost (53 delegates (26 regional, 8 Equality, 11 labour left groups, 8 trade unions)
8) Strong desire for Trade Unionists to be involved in Momentum. However, Trade Unions having ‘block votes’ was strongly rejected by the group. National unions and regions can affiliate and can get 2 delegates to regional network meetings (i.e. the same as local groups with same rules)
9) Strong desire for regions and local groups to be able to access data in a controlled way. – agreed
10) Regions should organise policy making conferences – remitted as a policy, but regions can do this (East Midlands has one in March) it is just not a requirement for regions to do this
11) Membership and attendance at meetings: Remove the second paragraph:
Organising or planning meetings should be open to members of Momentum (Labour Party members, affiliate members, or individuals who are not members of other political parties who support the aims and values of the Labour Party*).
“Momentum groups may choose to organise campaigning activities or public events, which may be open to individuals who adhere to the ‘code of ethics.’ However, as Momentum is a Labour-oriented organisation, individuals are not permitted to promote any other political party (this includes distributing literature for or by another political party).”. We agreed to remove this and agreed that members of momentum can be labour party, members, affiliates or supporters as long as they do not support other parties to labour.

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EU: time for the UK left to face reality

February 3, 2016 at 7:56 pm (David Cameron, Europe, internationalism, Jim D, left, Murdoch, populism, Racism, Socialist Party, stalinism, SWP, Tory scum)

Portada de The Sun (United Kingdom)

As Cameron embarks on his campaign to sell his “reformed” relationship with the EU, the xenophobes have begun their anti-EU campign in earnest. Today’s Sun gives us a taste of what to expect: denunciations of migrants, demands for stricter border controls and thinly-disguised racism.

It’s time for the left to get real: the anti-EU movement is of necessity nationalist, xenophobic and border-line racist. No matter how much idiots like the Morning Star, the SWP and the Socialist Party try to dress up their anti-EU rhetoric with the word “socialism” and dire warnings about the evils of international capitalism and the “bosses’ Europe” they cannot escape the reactionary logic of their anti-EU stance.

Yet for decades now most of the British left — and the left in a few other European countries, such as Denmark — has agitated “against the EU”. The agitation has suggested, though rarely said openly, we should welcome and promote every pulling-apart of the EU, up to and including the full re-erection of barriers between nation-states.

Yet the possibility of a serious unravelling of the patchwork, bureaucratic semi-unification of Europe, slowly developed over the last sixty years, is more real today than ever before. The decisive push for unravelling comes from from the nationalist and populist right.

And that calls the bluff of a whole swathe of the British left.

For decades, most of the British left has been “anti-EU” as a matter of faith. In Britain’s 1975 referendum on withdrawing from the EU, almost the whole left, outside AWL’s forerunner Workers’ Fight, campaigned for withdrawal. Since then the left has hesitated explicitly to demand withdrawal. It has limited itself to “no to bosses’ Europe” agitation, implying but not spelling out a demand for the EU to be broken up.

The agitation has allowed the left to eat its cake and have it. The left can chime in with populist-nationalist “anti-Europe” feeling, which is stronger in Britain than in any other EU country. It can also cover itself by suggesting that it is not really anti-European, but only dislikes the “bosses’” character of the EU.

As if a confederation of capitalist states could be anything other than capitalist! As if the cross-Europe policy of a collection of neo-liberal governments could be anything other than neo-liberal!

As if the material force behind neo-liberal cuts has been the relatively flimsy Brussels bureaucracy, rather than the mighty bureaucratic-military-industrial complexes of member states. As if the answer is to oppose confederation and cross-Europeanism as such, rather than the capitalist, neo-liberal, bureaucratic character of both member states and the EU.

As if the EU is somehow more sharply capitalist, anti-worker, and neo-liberal than the member states. In Britain more than any other country we have seen successive national governments, both Tory and New Labour, repeatedly objecting to EU policy as too soft, too “social”, too likely to entrench too many workers’ rights.

As if the answer is to pit nations against Europe, rather than workers against bosses and bankers. The anti-EU left loves to gloatingly  remind us of the EU leaders’ appalling treatment of Greece and Tsipras’s capitulation – despite the fact that while in Greece and Southern Europe the EU is indeed a force for neoliberal austerity, in the UK no-one can point to a single attack on the working class that has originated with the EU against the will of a British government: indeed the EU has forced reluctant UK governments to enact limited but real pro-worker legislation (despite the Morning Star‘s dishonest claims to the contrary, the EU has been responsible for real pro-working class reforms such as the Transfer of Undertakings Regulations, the Agency Workers Regulations and the Working Time Regulations – none of which are at any immediate risk as a result of Cameron’s “renegotiation”).

When Socialist Worker, in a Q&A piece, posed itself the question, “wouldn’t things be better for workers if Britain pulled out of the EU?”, it answered itself with a mumbling “yes, but” rather than a ringing “yes”.

Socialist Worker is against Britain being part of a bosses’ Europe”. Oh? And against Britain being part of a capitalist world, too?

Britain would be better off in outer space? Or walled off from the world North-Korea-style? “But withdrawing from the EU wouldn’t guarantee workers’ rights — the Tories remain committed to attacking us”. Indeed. And just as much so as the EU leaders, no?

A few years ago the Socialist Party threw itself into a electoral coalition called No2EU. Every week in its “Where We Stand” it declaims: “No to the bosses’ neo-liberal European Union!”, though that theme rarely appears in its big headlines.

Even the demand for withdrawal is a soft-soap, “tactical” gambit. In principle Britain could quit the EU without disrupting much. It could be like Norway, Iceland, Switzerland: pledged to obey all the EU’s “Single Market” rules (i.e. all the neo-liberal stuff) though opting out of a say in deciding the rules; exempt from contributing to the EU budget but also opting out from receiving EU structural and regional funds.

That is not what the no-to-EU-ers want. They want Britain completely out. They want all the other member-states out too. A speech by RMT president Alex Gordon featured on the No2EU website spells it out: “Imperialist, supranational bodies such as the EU seek to roll back democratic advances achieved in previous centuries… Progressive forces must respond to this threat by defending and restoring national democracy. Ultimately, national independence is required for democracy to flourish…”

But does the left really want the EU broken up? What would happen?

The freedom for workers to move across Europe would be lost. “Foreign” workers in each country from other ex-EU states would face disapproval at best.

There would be a big reduction in the productive capacities of the separate states, cut off from broader economic arenas.

Governments and employers in each state would be weaker in capitalist world-market competition, and thus would be pushed towards crude cost-cutting, in the same way that small capitalist businesses, more fragile in competition, use cruder cost-cutting than the bigger employers.

There would be more slumps and depression, in the same way that the raising of economic barriers between states in the 1930s lengthened and deepened the slump then.

Nationalist and far-right forces, already the leaders of anti-EU political discourse everywhere, would be “vindicated” and boosted. Democracy would shrink, not expand. The economically-weaker states in Europe, cut off from the EU aid which has helped them narrow the gap a bit, would suffer worst, and probably some would fall to military dictatorships.

Before long the economic tensions between the different nations competing elbow-to-elbow in Europe’s narrow cockpit would lead to war, as they did repeatedly for centuries, and especially in 1914 and 1939.

The left should fight, not to go backwards from the current bureaucratic, neo-liberal European Union, but forward, towards workers’ unity across Europe, a democratic United States of Europe, and a socialist United States of Europe.

It’s time for the anti-EU left to get real, face facts and pull back from its disastrous de facto alliance with some of the most reactionary forces in British politics.

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Motion to Left Unity: “The impossible has happened … and we got it wrong”

November 19, 2015 at 6:39 pm (Champagne Charlie, labour party, left, reformism, socialism)

Members of a left group admitting they got things seriously wrong and the organisation needs to fundamentally change: how often has this happened before?

Left Unity

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