Yassamine Mather presents a good deal of valuable information regarding the slide to disaster in Syria, but fails to put it in the wider context of imperialist expansion (‘Deselect the Labour warmongers’, December 3). We might be about to witness a carve-up of the Middle East on a scale not seen since Sykes-Picot after World War I. It will be accompanied by much blood and destruction and the danger of ever wider conflict, yet the crisis is treated almost in isolation from other conflicts.

Even when it is viewed as a regional problem, we see an expanding conflagration - not just as the spread of jihadism, but the numerous other interested parties. All the participants have their own agenda, backed increasingly by force. There are regional forces - Turkey, Iran, Saudi Arabia - and the religious divide, but the underlying issue is the role of US-led western imperialism, seeking to set up compliant regimes. Assad must fall because he is an ally of Russia, which needs regime change to open a vast area for the exploitation of raw materials.

The Syrian war is paralleled by that in Ukraine - a crisis produced by Nato expansion and the coup that established a pro-western far right regime. The Weekly Worker has barely, if ever, mentioned this conflict. It is still ongoing, so there is time yet to take a position on it. Meanwhile, in the Far East, the US is rounding up allies and boosting military preparations for a confrontation with emerging trade rival China. Again, I don’t recall having read much about this in the Weekly Worker, which increasingly resembles a parish magazine for the UK soggy left.

No surprise then that Yassamine ends her article with: “So, just as we oppose western intervention, let us be very clear: Russian and Iranian military involvement in Syria has made a bad situation much worse” - the sort of language I expect from liberals, pacifists and the Stop the War Coalition. She adds that the main task of the left in Britain is defending Corbyn and pressing for deselection of pro-bombing MPs. Given the spineless character of Momentum, whose spokespeople are fleeing from the very idea, it might be already a lost cause.

The main task should be to represent the independent interests of the working class worldwide. It is almost axiomatic for socialists to assert that capitalism is the root cause of war, and to end war we must end capitalism, yet this is rarely stated, rarely argued for, except in the abstract. Invariably, in practice it is set aside in favour of the ‘main task’ of the day - in this case punishing errant careerists or building relations with those who seek to do anything but create an anti-war movement on a global perspective of class struggle.

The CPGB is, or was, affiliated to the Stop the War Coalition, and sought the same for Hands Off the People of Iran. I challenge the CPGB to review this position and explain its attitude to the proposal for a class-based anti-war movement. At the very least there should be a wider debate on this.

Mike Martin


I have just read Yassamine Mather’s article on Syria. It contains some good points, but descends into the gutter with a quote from the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. I thought everyone knew this was run by a single individual who runs a tobacconist shop in London and has difficulty remembering his own name.

It is much favoured by the Tory press, as it gives out ridiculous figures which have no basis in reality. To see it quoted in the Weekly Worker is quite shocking. The article quotes about 50 or more individuals. With this quoting game you can make whatever conclusion you like. It’s not a reliable way of reporting the truth - it’s quite unstable and is called selective quoting. You choose quotes that back up your own argument.

And, astoundingly, the article makes no mention of Turkey shooting down the Russian jet in Syria. It’s a major incident which has quite possibly changed the fate of the war, yet there’s no mention of it. The war in Syria will end at some point. It is the west’s Stalingrad. Just as the Nazis chucked everything at Stalingrad without it buckling, and thus sealed its own fate, so Syria has not and will not buckle and thus it will be the beginning of the end for the western axis, another Nazi conglomeration. The fate of Syria is being decided in the east. The power of the west is waning.

You also quote former UK diplomatic and army figures and Nato sources. They are not reliable or moral sources. You wouldn’t quote members of the BNP in that kind of way. So why are you quoting them? They are despicable individuals, enemies of mankind. You don’t quote anyone from Russia. They have a lot of intelligent information to give to the western serf audience. We would do well to convey that information.

Elijah Traven

No discussion!

“Today we’re going to talk about why we hate the Tories, so let’s hear contributions from the floor. Tell us: what do you hate most about the Tories?” It sounded like a session at the crèche of the Socialist Workers Party’s Marxism summer school. And yet this was the agenda that Emine Ibrahim and a fellow local Labour councillor had prepared for the second public meeting of Haringey Momentum, which they chaired.

That this approach was insulting to the attendees’ intelligence was the lesser problem. It seemed that the chairs had something to hide. From the outset, they had established that certain topics were not to be discussed. Radical groups were not to advertise their activities or present their agendas, since they would “only be preaching to the converted” - unlike, presumably, telling each other why we hated the Tories.

There would not be any debate about local expulsions from Labour, “because people who aren’t party members” were present. Most importantly, the meeting must not make “any decisions”, because national structures were “yet to be established” - and what if it turned out that a locally made decision did not sit well with policies decided upon within forthcoming “national structures”?

The news articles that appeared in the press the following morning about Momentum barring non-Labour Party members from any decision-making meetings partly explain why the chairs were saying such things. What’s more, this was typical Labour left apparat politics at work. Instead of taking initiatives, we were all told to wait for instructions passed down by Jon Lansman and whatever committees and officials he might decide to appoint in the future.

The chairs’ arbitrary ban on virtually all pressing topics led to some comical results - such as, for instance, a comrade from the Alliance for Workers’ Liberty referring to “members of a certain radical group recently expelled from a certain local branch of a certain political party” - before he was shut up by the chairs.

From the organisers’ point of view, the meeting must have been a total fiasco - for only one or two comrades rose to their ‘challenge’ and told us why they hated the Tories (“they make cuts”, “they are unfair”, “they are nasty to the disabled”, etc). After these, everybody wisely ignored their directives and talked on whatever topic they chose. A comrade from the International Socialist Network made for him an unusually tame contribution, stating that the Labour Party had been unable to put up any opposition “for the past 20 years”, but now the situation had changed - although he did second a young comrade’s view that we must offer a vision of an alternative society instead of just defending the world as it is against Tory reforms.

The Labour Party right was not spared - another issue the chairs seemed none too fond of - nor were flip-flopping opportunists such as Tottenham MP David Lammy. While it was positive that Lammy had come out in support of Corbyn, a Labour Party comrade stated, this did not change anything about his corrupt little autocracy in Tottenham, which was deeply in the pockets of property developers and involved in a ‘social cleansing’ project. The chair, Emine Ibrahim, energetically asserted that “we’re not going to agree on that”.

In fact, that is precisely what is happening in Haringey. Last year, for instance, I was part of a delegation that visited a local council estate that faced imminent demolition. The residents, some of whom had been living there for several decades, told us they might be offered relatively short-term contracts for accommodation somewhere out in the sticks as ‘compensation’ for being uprooted, dispersed and sacrificed to the free market. What was going to be built in place of their estate? A parking lot for the block of ‘luxury flats’ currently being erected next door.

Just one example of where the Lammy regime’s priorities lay: it recently commissioned a funkier looking new Haringey Council logo for £86,000 - presumably to attract more hipsters and start-ups after last summer’s organic shop/beardy proliferation. As an aside, in a recent pro-gentrification piece in Workers’ Liberty the AWL’s Martin Thomas euphemistically referred to this clientele as “better-off workers” pushing out the lumpen. An article that was typically provocative, but did not quite sink to the depths of Berlin’s ‘anti-German hipster antifa’, who compare the pricing out of working class people to the 1945 liberation of Germany from fascism.

To return to the Momentum meeting, one worthwhile discussion emerging from the floor was the question of local cuts. Usefully, the same AWL comrade suggested that this was not so much a question of expecting heroic Labour councillors to refuse austerity budgets on their own, but figuring out what we can collectively do to exert pressure in this regard. It would be worth dedicating Momentum meetings to this discussion, the comrade suggested. However, a long-standing local Labour member replied that, in truth, rebellious councillors had very little to fear. They voted for cuts not because of pressure, but because it was part and parcel of their politics. By that, he included the born-again ‘lefties’ with one foot in Momentum and the other in David Lammy’s ‘regeneration’ camp.

It was not the last remark to prompt howls of objection from the chairs, as the meeting increasingly eluded their control. Who was setting up “national structures” for Momentum? How would leaders be elected? How would they be held to account? Why was it impossible to make collective local decisions - such as, for instance, agreeing to leaflet the imminent anti-war demonstration, given the Syria vote and the media crucifying Corbyn over Stop the War this week? Questions that neither chair was aching to answer.

It can be said that, to some extent, the bureaucratic modus operandi on display simply did not chime with the sentiments of the younger audience members, of which there were more than a few. The terms ‘grassroots’ and ‘social movement’ were heard a lot, though thankfully most seem to have outgrown the full-on Occupy approach, leaving a lone AWL member to do the ‘jazz hands’ on her own. 2011 is over, comrade.

Moreover, it continues to be the case that Momentum supporters are a bit cleverer than the invisible leadership would wish. Pretty soon, the manoeuvring chairs had virtually the entire room up against them. Although not all the contributions from the floor were useful. The token ‘rock dude’ objected to the idea of chairing as such, and - as if channelling Rage Against The Latrine’s notorious ‘Fuck you, I won’t do my homework’ song - proclaimed that he would speak whenever he felt like it. But, for the most part, the anger in the room came from a very healthy democratic place. Even the local Socialist Resistance activist declared that Momentum was run by a self-appointed leadership and, if this bureaucratic approach continued, people would not come back for further meetings. Whatever their motivations, it was the first time I have seen Socialist Resistance members resisting something other than socialism.

On the other hand, few alternatives to Momentum’s call to passively follow instructions were offered that went beyond pedestrian calls for more campaigning. Most could be summed up by one attendee’s half-joking contribution: “I just want to do stuff”. The AWL, eternally torn between economism and projecting a more politically serious image, found itself nodding along with the ‘action, action, action’ bits most of the time.

The near-riotous meeting came to an end amidst suggestions that we should organise leafleting for next week’s Stop the War demo and continue discussions on the future of Haringey Momentum on its Facebook page. Local activists can expect more intense ‘moderation’ on that forum sooner rather than later.

Maciej Piatkowski

Respect Labour

As part of the ongoing coverage of the divisions in the Labour Party over the issue of air strikes on Syria, Nancy Taaffe of the Socialist Party in England and Wales (formerly known as the Militant Tendency, covertly as the Revolutionary Socialist League) was interviewed on the BBC’s Daily Politics programme on December 3.

Comrade Taaffe hardly helped dispel the common image and depiction of the far left in this country as a bunch of swivel-eyed loons. Her facial expressions switched constantly between one of apparent ferocious hostility and a version of the rictus grinning we perhaps last saw from Gordon Brown. Although her head remained aimed at the camera, her eyes and attention seemed to be constantly distracted by something happening very high to her left, which added to the unsettling effect.

Comrade Taaffe identified herself a number of times as a member of the Socialist Party and that she had stood as a candidate in the general election on behalf of “Tusc” (Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition), without explanation of what that was or stood for, which must have confused and mystified the audience.

She ‘demanded’ that the Labour Party deselect the MP for Walthamstow, Stella Creasy, and went on to ‘demand’ that Labour convene an immediate special conference to reintroduce mandatory reselection for MPs, and also that the Socialist Party be allowed to affiliate to the Labour Party in the same way as does the Cooperative Party.

The breathtaking hypocrisy, impertinence and arrogance of the ultra-left never fails to astonish me. SPEW was formed after its leading members were out-performed by Neil Kinnock in the 1980s and expelled from Labour as a ‘party within a party’. They then declared that Labour was henceforth dead as a bourgeois workers’ party with any potential for being transformed into a workers’ party (because they were no longer in it!), and took no part whatsoever in the recent Corbyn leadership campaign, on the basis of that being a complete waste of time, it being impossible to “resurrect a corpse”.

Having been proved completely and utterly wrong, you might have expected some humility and reflection, but, no, SPEW is apparently now placing demands on how the Labour Party should conduct its internal democracy, calling on individual CLPs to deselect their MPs, and for it be allowed to affiliate.

It all reminded me of the set-piece debate of the decade in the early 1980s between the self-styled ‘revolutionary left’ and the then Bennite Labour left, when people like Paul Foot and Tariq Ali were demanding the Labour Party transform itself into a socialist party, get rid of rightwing Labour MPs, adopt in effect Trotsky’s Transitional programme and then, after doing all that hard work, open it up to allow outside groups like the SWP and International Marxist Group to come in and join. As Audrey Wise MP, speaking for the Labour left at the time, said, “Big deal, big deal, big prizes ... Not.”

Tony Benn during that debate denounced the “socialist groups” as not being genuine revolutionaries at all, but as “left-talking revolutionists” - ie, they talk the talk, shout and criticise from the sidelines, raise ‘demands’ which can never be met, but have very little connection or engagement with the very real and ‘actually existing’ labour movement and wider social forces which will be required to bring about genuine social change and revolutionary transformation.

I think socialists and revolutionaries who are outside the party should treat the Labour membership - especially its new membership - with considerable respect. It is fine to have political, strategic and tactical differences, but these need to be debated and worked through in a spirit of constructive engagement, and not through the placing of impossible ‘demands’.

This may allow some of the socialist groups to become part of the Labour Party, providing they show respect and adherence to its aims and values, as well as its constitution, and do not try and subvert its democracy, or its basis as the mass political party of the organised labour movement.

As Chris Knight suggested in the recent reprints of his two extremely interesting and thought-provoking articles (September 24 and October 8), the Labour Party can and should become the “parliament” of the labour and working class movement. It cannot itself become the ‘revolutionary vanguard’, and the socialist groups should not attempt to make it so.

We should also be aware the Labour Party needs to increase its support by millions of votes by the time of the next election, if it is to form a government, and these millions are likely to be people who are motivated by values of respect, tolerance and solidarity, rather than by hostility, aggression, dog-fighting and point-scoring between the sects and factions.

Andrew Northall

Still here

The rebellion by 66 Labour MPs, including Bermondsey’s Neil Coyle, gave tacit support to Bashar al-Assad’s counterrevolution in Syria. No doubt Assad - Syria’s own general Franco - sat in his palace sipping champagne, cheering the Labour rebels and thinking, ‘Great speech, Hilary’. However, it is time to remember another famous rebellion by George Galloway MP in opposing the Labour government war in Iraq and many other acts of opposition by Jeremy Corbyn in defiance of the Labour leadership.

The bureaucratic, conservative mentality (such as Stalinism) thinks that all rebellions are bad because they are acts of a minority who defy the ‘party line’. Lenin by contrast understood that some acts of defiance are good and should be applauded, while others are bad and should be condemned. It all depends on the class politics and aims of the rebels. The 66 backed Cameron and the US-led bombing campaign, while Galloway stood up to the Bush-Blair war machine.

In 1916 James Connolly, the Irish republican socialist, led an uprising against the British union and crown forces occupying Ireland. Lenin was one of the first to support the rebellion. Most socialists condemned it because it involved violence, and asked, was it the right time, did he have permission and was there a better plan? Lenin did not think in these ways. He immediately recognised it was a rebellion for democracy and self-determination against the imperialist world war. It was a progressive action to be supported and celebrated.

So it is with some amusement that I read the condemnation of my non-expulsion from Left Unity, which seems to have exercised speeches by CPGB members at the Left Unity conference and in the Weekly Worker articles by Peter Manson and Paul Demarty (November 26). They say that standing as a Republican Socialist candidate in Bermondsey was a “snub to the [Left Unity] branch” and a “middle finger to the organisation”. Not a very ‘safe spaces’ way of describing republican socialist opposition to the austerity politics of Simon Hughes and Neil Coyle MP - and, yes, of course, the lash-up between the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition and Left Unity.

The Weekly Worker casts the story as an act of defiance against LU. But, like a Stalinist bureaucrat, they never ask or explain the politics. ‘He opposed the party line’ is enough to fuel their outrage. They seem to think my ‘crime’ against the working class was defy the Left Unity constitution and drive a horse and coach right through it. Nothing could be further from the truth.

I stood in Bermondsey to support the democratic uprising that began in Scotland in 2014. It was a call for this to be extended as a wider and deeper democratic revolution in England and Wales. The ‘Manifesto for Democracy’ said that Westminster should be closed down before it fell down. We promoted the need for a democratic social republic and opposition to the reactionary and anti-democratic Acts of Union. I made the case that people in England be inspired by the working class in Glasgow and Dundee, who put up a middle finger to Cameron and the British ruling class, and not be fooled by the anti-Scottish English chauvinism promoted by Ukip and the Tories.

The Weekly Worker was not interested in any of this. Their only concern is that I had acted against the Labourite lash-up of Tusc and Left Unity. It exposed their bureaucratic thinking that rebellion is bad. It became an exposure of the hypocrisy of the Weekly Worker, which claimed to oppose the Labourite lash-up and support republicanism. Their actions said the opposite to their words.

Six months later nobody in Left Unity is supporting the Tusc-LU bloc. Their Bermondsey candidate was not seen at Left Unity conference. Nick Wrack, the Tusc-LU candidate in next-door Peckham, has left to join Harriet Harman in the Labour Party. Jeremy Corbyn has put them all to the sword.

But the democratic programme I stood for in Bermondsey is still alive and relevant. I am still in Left Unity alongside the CPGB. Republican socialists are still standing up for same politics and principles, while the CPGB is still supporting Labourism against republicanism and self-determination.

Steve Freeman
Left Unity and Rise

Failing animals

Did you hear about Bernie Sanders’ speech, when he came out in opposition to the systematic slaughter of farm animals in America? Did you hear the passion with which - in his thick, Brooklyn accent - he denounced the horrors of vivisection, the abuse of zoos and circuses, and the abomination of hunting? Did you notice how Hillary Clinton, not wanting Sanders to outflank her, adopted a similar stance, and even the Republican front runners were forced to discuss the issue in their most recent debate? No, you didn’t and neither did I. Because, as animalists, we’ve failed non-humans.

Of course, in the near future, it isn’t remotely likely that leading presidential candidates will take an abolitionist position on animal exploitation. But we can’t even get welfarism, for which I imagine there is a wide base of support, on the agenda. In early October, I attended a packed Sanders speech in Springfield, Mass; so far as I could tell, there was not a single mention of the torturous treatment to which we subject intensively-farmed animals, let alone any other non-human group. This is what we get from the left-most candidate with any national traction: nothing.

And, to a certain degree, this is our fault. To be fair, the animalist group, Direct Action Everywhere, has attempted to force the plight of non-humans into the presidential campaign. In late October a courageous DAE activist, Matt Johnson, stormed the stage at a Clinton rally in Iowa, carrying an animalist banner, before being removed by police. So far as I can tell, all that resulted from this was a few bemused quips from Bill Clinton, but we need far more actions like this. The example we should be following, in this primary, is that of Black Lives Matter activists, who after repeatedly heckling candidates, got those, at least on the Democratic side, to more specifically address criminal-justice reform.

I’ll admit I found the Black Lives Matter interruption of a Sanders event in Seattle annoying. The video of two young women shouting at an elderly candidate - who, as a socialist, I was predisposed to like - inches away from his face, didn’t sit well with me. Further, it seemed disingenuous when one of these women accused the crowd of racism for booing their hijacking of the event. But in retrospect, it’s clear these activists advanced their cause. Sanders made criminal-justice reform a regular and central part of his stump speech.

We need to, so much as it’s possible, do the same for animalism. We need to haunt the candidates. We need to be there with signs and megaphones at every campaign event. We need to shout them down until they address the overwhelming violence our country inflicts on its non-human brethren. We need to be unafraid of being obnoxious, a fear of which, I’ll be the first to admit, I have a hard time overcoming outside of print. So far this election cycle, we’ve failed animals. Let’s not allow it to continue.

Jon Hochschartner