Using any stick, using any trick
Eddie Ford welcomes Jeremy Corbyn’s defence of the Stop the War Coalition
As far as the press is concerned, any stick will do with which to beat Jeremy Corbyn. Whether it be not singing the national anthem with sufficient gusto or bowing to the correct level at the Cenotaph, ‘snubbing’ the queen by not attending the privy council, advocating “gender segregation” on public transport, pro-terrorist sympathies - you name it, regardless of how silly or downright false. The attacks on Corbyn have been relentless since the moment he got his name on the leadership ballot paper, with everyone knowing from then on that he was going to get elected - unless they were stupid or fell for what they read in rightwing newspapers.
Now, the latest stick is the “disreputable” Stop the War Coalition - subject of an onslaught of stories demanding that Corbyn pull out of its December 11 £50-per-head Christmas fundraising dinner in London. Indeed, the press wanted Corbyn to disown or denounce the STWC (which he chaired for four years) due to its “abhorrent views” - at least in the opinion of two former frontbenchers, Emma Reynolds and Caroline Flint, who warned that the STWC are “not Labour’s friends”. Apparently, according to Michael Dugher, the shadow minister for culture, a lot of STWC members “think the wrong people won the cold war”. We are also not too astonished to discover that “communism in a modern setting doesn’t have a lot of appeal to me”. Hopefully the rumours about Dugher soon getting the sack as a shadow minister are true.
Of course, with astounding hypocrisy, what the press are really complaining about is that Corbyn is attending an STWC dinner instead of hobnobbing with the likes of Rupert Murdoch, arms traders, CEOs of drugs companies, investment bankers, etc. These sorts of events, naturally, go without comment in the media. Just take a look at News International’s legendary summer parties, which everyone attends - prime ministers, leaders of the opposition, celebrities, TV executives, business leaders, etc. All bowing and scraping, downing Moet and Chandon with oysters, paying homage to the great Rupert - one report from four years ago claimed that Ed Miliband “arrived early and left late” and “had to be prised away from Rupert to allow David Cameron to speak”.1 But there is no protest from the media about this revolting sycophancy because it is regarded as perfectly normal politics, something you have to do if you want to be treated as a ‘responsible’ statesman.2
But what is not acceptable, it seems, is for Corbyn to point out his consistent opposition to the disastrous western military interventions in Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria, Libya, and so on. On these matters, comrade Corbyn has been proved conclusively right - only further incurring the wrath of rightwing Labour MPs/shadow ministers, who prefer to vote with the Tory government and its lies rather than tell the truth. Shame on them.
The STWC, and hence Corbyn, come under attack in a truly appalling piece of journalism by Andrew Gilligan of The Sunday Telegraph, entitled ‘The veteran Trotskyite and the public schoolboy united behind Jeremy Corbyn’ - the title alone is enough to alert you to the crap that is coming (December 12). The “veteran”, needless to say, is John Rees, STWC’s national officer and founder member of Counterfire, the Socialist Workers Party’s post-Tony Cliff leadership in exile. Anyway, Gilligan is a hurry to tell us that former long-term supporters of the STWC have “disowned” the group, naming Caroline Lucas and Peter Tatchell.
This is disingenuous on all sorts of levels. Lucas stepped down as an STWC patron almost a month ago, her office issuing a statement that her “busy parliamentary and constituency schedule means that she doesn’t have time to fully engage with the role of a patron”. She added that she was “specifically troubled” by some remarks attributed to the STWC after the Paris atrocities, feeling “unable to associate herself with them”. However, the same statement also emphasised that the former Green Party leader shared the group’s opposition to the bombing of Syria, and in return the STWC said it was “delighted” that both Lucas and the current Green Party leader, Natalie Bennett, have spoken on STWC platforms and “very much welcome their continued support and that of many Green Party activists”.
The STWC statement stressed that “we are a very big coalition with different organisations within it”, adding, quite reasonably, that “we have very different approaches within it and sometimes we have different approaches tactically”. Not that being a “very big coalition” and having “very different approaches” stopped the STWC’s leadership from repeatedly barring Hands Off the People of Iran from reaffiliating.
Unsurprisingly, Lucas is not too happy about the way her comments and resignation have been used by the rightwing press to attack the anti-war movement in general and Jeremy Corbyn in particular. As for Peter Tatchell, another Green Party member and “great” Corbyn supporter, he has no particular association with the STWC - distant at best. Perhaps rather unwisely (or naively), he told The Independent - without offering any substantial evidence - that the group has “lost its moral compass and authority” - which “sometimes means they will ignore the horrendous crimes of despotic anti-American regimes like Russia and Iran” (December 9).
Corbyn does not support the autocracies in Moscow or Tehran, Tatchell further says, but on some international issues “he’s fallen into the same trap” as other “leading lights” in the STWC - he “hasn’t been sufficiently loud in speaking out against them”. In the same vein, Tatchell co-signed a joint letter to The Guardian condemning the STWC on the basis that it has “repeatedly refused to have anti-Assad Syrian democrats and leftwingers on its platforms at events where Syria is being discussed; whereas it has offered a platform to pro-Assad speakers”.3 But are these Syrian democrats and leftwings opposed to the extension of imperialist intervention in the Middle East? Or are they useful dupes of imperialism? Tatchell does not say.
The offending or ‘troubling’ comments about the Paris massacre, as our readers will probably know, were that the city had “reaped the whirlwind” of “western support for extremist violence” in the Middle East, and another one saying that the jihadists were driven by a “spirit of internationalism and solidarity” akin to the International Brigades that fought in the Spanish Civil War. Both comments were submitted by individuals, and were quickly removed from the STWC website, there being no doubt that the International Brigades comparison was especially crass. But the “whirlwind” statement has been deliberately taken completely out of context, as pointed out by the author of the original blog post, Chris Floyd, in a letter to The Guardian. He decries the fact that “MPs twisted my words” on the Paris attacks, given that it clearly states that the west is “paying for the consequences of many decades of collusion with - and manipulation of - religious extremism by our leaders in order to advance various geopolitical goals. Is this even a controversial or ‘disreputable’ statement?” (December 8).4 No, not really, Chris.
Anyhow, next we are told by Gilligan that Kate Hudson is a member of … Socialist Action. What? In today’s world you would expect any half-competent journalist to do some basic research by googling now and again - but apparently not our Andrew, hungry as always for the truth. If you actually google ‘Kate Hudson activist’, as opposed to the American actress of the same name, the very first result is a Wikipedia article informing you that she is the general secretary of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament and national secretary of Left Unity. Rather, it was her deceased partner, Redmond O’Neil, who was an SA member. Impressive work, Andrew.
Once again showing his commitment to cutting-edge investigative journalism, Gilligan reveals that one Kamal Majid attended the STWC dinner. No, this writer has not heard of him either. Apparently, he is an 81-year-old Iraqi Maoist, or ex-Maoist, and a founder member of the Stalin Society in 1991 - who, we read, told a meeting of the New Communist Party that the Syrian regime has a “long history of resisting imperialism” and must be supported because its defeat will “pave the way for a pro-western and pro-US regime”.
Whilst this may be opening up new political vistas for Telegraph readers (a ‘new’ Communist Party? Stalin Society?), talk about scraping the barrel. If you look far enough and hard enough, you will find all sorts of people at an STWC meeting - or any other political meeting, for that matter, especially on the left. But Majid was hardly a star attraction, standing alongside Jeremy Corbyn, John Rees and Lindsey German - was he? Not exactly a face or name imprinted upon our collective anti-imperialist consciousness.
Instead of scrambling around for nonentities like Majid, why not attack someone more substantial - like Andrew Murray, for instance, who was STWC chair for 10 years and is still part of its leadership. He is a member of the Morning Star’s Communist Party of Britain, Unite’s chief of staff and is on record as defending JV Stalin - even if he did recently tell The Guardian that communism still represents a society worth working towards, “albeit not by the methods of the 20th century, which failed”.5 In other words, Murray is some sort of serious politician.
Gilligan further regales us with nonsense about John Rees - pictured alongside Asim Qureshi of Cage, the advocacy organisation whose stated aim is to “highlight and campaign against state policies developed as part of the war on terror”. We discover that Qureshi knew ‘Jihadi John’ (Mohammed Emwazi) when he was a “beautiful young man” and Gilligan darkly comments that “at the press conference last February, with Mr Rees nodding in agreement, Asim Qureshi, Cage’s director, blamed MI5 for turning the ‘gentle’ Emwazi into a murderer”. No, Emwazi must have been born an evil terrorist - he came out of the womb that way, clearly. Actually, Mr Gilligan, Rees was “nodding” - or acknowledging - the obvious point that the persecution of Emwazi by the British authorities helped to turn him into a violent jihadist. Story of guilt by association might scare Telegraph readers, but that does not detract from the fact that they are being treated like idiots by the paper’s leading journalists and editors.
If anything, incredibly, we have an even more absurd piece of ‘journalism’ from the Daily Mail - this time the target is Lindsey German, STWC’s co-founder and convenor. Almost hilariously, she is portrayed as the evil genius behind Jeremy Corbyn (despite looking as though “she spends most of her time poring over knitting patterns” and “having benefited from a grammar school education” - December 11). Gosh, yes, we expect better of grammar school pupils. We learn that this “plump little lady” was “pivotal” in getting Corbyn elected and is, “in fact”, the STWC’s “most powerful voice” and a “weapon of mass instruction” - a “considerable orator” who “would no doubt have made a brilliant barrister” but, alas, wasted her talents by getting involved with the SWP and John Rees, her long-term partner.
What pure baloney. Has the journalist (Geoffrey Levy) who wrote this daft stuff ever listened to Lindsey German speak? We do not want to be unkind to a comrade who undoubtedly has many talents, but oration is not one of them - she is certainly no George Galloway, that is for sure. But the story has to be told that she has almost superhuman powers - but uses them to effect evil.
Communists are glad to say that Corbyn uncompromisingly rejected the siren calls of the press and wretched rightwing Labour MPs to disassociate himself from Stop the War. Quite correctly, in a brief speech at the fundraising dinner (where he sold his Breton cap for £270), he called it a “vital” democratic force - warts and all, communists would add, as it does undoubtedly suffer from a one-sided anti-imperialism that leads to crude apologetics for reactionary anti-imperialisms. Corbyn went on to accuse the coalition’s critics, also rightly, of trying to “close down democratic debate” and described the group as a “force for good” that he is “proud” to support. Perhaps more importantly still, he said that there are “very many more of us than there are of those people that want to take us in the other direction” - towards further imperialist intervention and war.
The STWC released a commendably militant statement on December 10 saying it was under “unprecedented attack”, not just because of its opposition to the bombing of Syria, but because such hostility was “perceived to weaken” Jeremy Corbyn - unarguably true. Also unarguable was the fact that the group’s positions had been “routinely misrepresented” by the Tory government, the right wing of the Labour Party and large sections of the media. It stressed that it had “never supported” the Assad regime or Russian intervention in Syria and was “utterly opposed” to Islamic State, which it described as “totally reactionary” - and, in the context of the Arab Spring, a “counterrevolutionary force”. Rees himself makes the observation that the Labour right understand that a “source of Jeremy’s popularity”, and “root of his success”, are his links with a broad social movement outside the ranks of the PLP - or even CLPs - and are “trying to make a wedge between those two things”: they would “like to separate Jeremy from the movement that gave him popular support” and thereby “make it easier for him to be replaced at a later date”.6
We in the CPGB are also heartened by stories in The Independent on Sunday and elsewhere that a shadow cabinet reshuffle is imminent and that the national policy forum is to be scrapped - which can only be good news, as it was specifically designed to circumvent conference, and in general disarm the membership by making sure discussion was diverted into safe channels controlled by the bureaucracy. There is also encouraging talk, though still frustratingly vague, about “increasing” the powers of conference - which would be another step in the right direction.
The best news of all, for communists anyway, is the idea that Momentum should become an affiliated society of the Labour Party in the same manner as the Fabians. If that were to happen, that would represent a very significant development. Obviously, if Momentum can affiliate, then why not the CPGB, CPB, SWP, SPEW, etc?
Such possibilities highlight the myopia of Left Unity at its November conference in rejecting the perspective of campaigning to once again open up the Labour Party to affiliation. Sadly, LU cannot even think weeks ahead, let alone years ahead.