Communist Platform: Preparing for conference
Peter Manson reports on the national meeting of Left Unity's Communist Platform
The Communist Platform of Left Unity met on March 23 to try and arrive at a common attitude to the LU national conference a week later.
In introducing the debate, Mike Macnair pointed out that the exact agenda had not yet been finalised, so there were bound to be unexpected items, including amendments, for which we were not prepared. Nevertheless, most of the motions were available, although it was clear that several topics would not be discussed through lack of time. That almost certainly applied to the policy commission resolutions, which had been placed at the bottom of the agenda. If, however, they were reached, comrade Macnair recommended a reference-back for all except the health commission resolution, which, although “imperfect”, was broadly acceptable. That could not be said of all the others, which betrayed their origins as the product of a committee - the ‘economy’ and ‘foreign policy’ resolutions in particular were truly dire.
Comrade Macnair gave a comprehensive review of all the motions so far available - for his recommendations, which were largely accepted by the meeting, see his article on pp6-7.
The only motion that provoked any real debate among CP supporters was the one emanating from Glasgow LU on the campaign for boycott, divestment and sanction (BDS) against Israel in solidarity with the Palestinian people. No-one was against supporting this motion, but there were differences over the interpretation of such a campaign. Moshé Machover pointed out that it was perfectly acceptable to interpret it in a principled way that does not require “agreement with liberals” - Ian Donovan had previously suggested that BDS might imply a popular front, which banked on sections of the bourgeoisie taking action against Israel. Comrade Machover cited a couple of examples of such principled action: the boycott of the G4S company, which provides security and prison equipment to Israel’s oppressive apparatus; and of Veolia, which provides transport links to Israeli settlements in the occupied territories.
Jack Conrad said that, while we should have no illusions that BDS will liberate Palestine, “symbols matter” - and we should “pick our cause” in the sense of highlighting particular campaigns. Farzad Kamangar was in general agreement, although she pointed out that blanket action - she mentioned a general academic boycott - could possibly “penalise the wrong people”. In this regard I said that some aspects of the general campaign to boycott apartheid South Africa were indeed misplaced: for example, the idea that telephone lines should be cut would have prevented working class and oppressed South Africans from communicating with each other internationally, while the regime and big business would have been able to get round such a ban. I suggested that individual campaigns should be carefully targeted - G4S and Veolia being good examples.
Comrade Machover stated that, while BDS is mostly symbolic, it might actually force a change in policy - he could imagine ordinary Israelis saying to their rulers, “Your policies are isolating us”. Comrade Macnair pointed out that, while we might have reservations about BDS, they were insufficient for us to oppose Glasgow’s motion. “In the context of this conference”, we should support it. This was accepted by all present.
There was a more general discussion about whether it is tactically correct to vote for an amendment to a motion that is itself insupportable, but the consensus appeared to be that it is perfectly reasonable to vote for such amendments and, even if they are successful, still vote against the substantive motion.
It was reported to the meeting that there were big problems with the leadership elections that had been taking place. Firstly, LU’s labyrinthine constitution had not been adhered to in respect of nominations - individual candidates should have been nominated by 20 members, but the transitional leadership had accepted just a proposer and seconder. As Mark Fischer commented, the constitution had effectively been “suspended”. Secondly, at least two candidates who had submitted their nominations had not appeared on the ballot paper.
Comrade Macnair pointed out that this situation had not resulted from any democratic abuse, but from the chaos produced by a “dog’s dinner” of a constitution, itself arising from a “false conception of democratic practice”. We had warned that the constitution may be unworkable and it seems that we may already have been proved correct. Comrade Conrad added that we should not support moves to annul the whole process, even though one of our own comrades was among those whose nomination had been overlooked. The point of standing Communist Platform candidates was politics, not to demonstrate our legalistic versatility.
Racism and the state
Earlier the meeting had debated a motion from comrade Donovan that had been held over from the February 8 meeting of the CP, together with a counter-motion moved by James Turley. It was generally agreed that, while the debate on M’bala M’bala Dieudonné was now a little dated, it was important to air the issues and take a position.
Comrade Donovan argued that the French comedian was being persecuted as a member of an oppressed minority. There had been attempts to outlaw his performances and he had been sent on the French equivalent of a ‘race awareness course’. And, of course, the UK state had banned him from entering the country. Comrade Donovan said that, while we should criticise Dieudonné’s evident anti- Semitism, we should defend him against these attacks by the state.
As a black man, Dieudonné was part of an oppressed minority, he continued. The bourgeoisie still needs racism to divide the working class and even its official anti-racism is itself racist. He contended that the “only operative version” of official anti-racism was opposition to anti- Semitism. Unlike blacks, Jews do not get disproportionately stopped and searched.
Comrade Turley’s motion was much shorter than the one proposed by comrade Donovan. After noting the UK ban on Dieudonné and the fact that he had been the “victim of state oppression in France”, it concluded: “While we oppose the anti-Semitic views promoted by Dieudonné, a figure on the fringes of the Front National, communists nevertheless strenuously resist state incursions on freedom of speech, which have been shown throughout modern history to serve not the interests of the working class, but its enemies.”
In his contribution, comrade Turley stated that Ian was concentrating too much on the British context and missing the specific French situation. This produces people like Dieudonné, who are “beginning to flirt with fascism”.
Comrade Machover thought that the whole affair raised two “interconnected, but separate issues”. The first was, “Can an oppressed minority be racist?” - to which he replied in the affirmative. There can arise a certain “triangulation” within an oppressed community: to gain approval from the majority certain elements may point the finger at a different oppressed community.
He went on to say that, while ‘Paki-bashing’ - which may be carried out by a combination of black and white youths - was “politically undeveloped”, you could not say that about Dieudonné’s anti-Semitism, which was “politically calculated”: aimed at gaining support among the majority white population. That was why he thought the idea of the CP defending someone so reactionary, just because his father came from Cameroon, was “preposterous”.
The second issue comrade Machover wanted to raise was the connection between Zionism and anti-Semitism (Dieudonné does not attack Zionism, he said: he attacks Jews). Comrade Machover stated that Ian Donovan seems to believe that “the Jews” have become an oppressor people. There is a truth here in relation to Palestine, but there they are oppressors as Zionists, not as Jews per se. He concluded that Israel-apologists have long contended that to attack Zionism is to attack Jews - and now Ian is “saying the same thing in a different way”.
In my intervention I wondered in what precise way Dieudonné could be said to be “oppressed”. He is a rich man, enjoying a privileged lifestyle, who has been targeted by the French state because of his politics. I strongly disputed comrade Donovan’s claim that the ruling class in Britain “still needs racism to divide the working class”. It is just plain wrong to say that blacks disproportionately die in custody or are targeted for stops and searches as a result of an officially sanctioned (and presumably secretly approved) racist policy. The real reason is a combination of the actions of individual racist police officers and the fact that blacks are disproportionally working class.
Other comrades disagreed to one extent or another, including Ian, who said my point was “massively exaggerated”. Comrade Macnair disagreed less strongly, but thought that comrade Donovan’s position on Dieudonné could be compared to the insistence of some on the left on “prettifying the oppressed”, just as they prettify reactionary anti-imperialists. Dieudonné was once on the left, he said - but so was Benito Mussolini, while the name ‘National Socialists’ speaks for itself.
In his reply, comrade Turley thought that the inferior position of blacks was not specifically about racism, but about their class position in society. He added that our criticism of official anti-racism should not be that it is in reality racist, but that it does not work.
Comrade Donovan himself stated that “virtually nothing has changed on the ground” in relation to racism. The ruling class has “the power to change things if they really wanted to” - the implication being that they do not want to put a stop to racism either in the police or elsewhere in society. In response to the point made by comrade Machover about viewing Jews as an oppressor people, he said that there was indeed an element of national consciousness about many Jews’ attachment to Israel.
In the end, however, comrade Donovan was the only one to vote for his motion, while comrade Turley’s was passed overwhelmingly.