The general management committee meeting of Finchley and Golders Green Constituency Labour Party (taking place after its annual general meeting) on July 26 was a tumultuous and bad-tempered affair. The right wing in our constituency is strongly intent on using the manufactured brouhaha over anti-Semitism to shore up its position - with the help of the left-baiting newspaper The Jewish Chronicle.
However, the AGM and the meeting that followed clearly exposed the appalling level of political debate among all sections of the Labour Party, which made me wince on at least 15 different occasions.
The main set piece of the meeting was a resolution not to accept the membership of one Daniel Margrain on the grounds of him using anti-Semitic language in a blog post; and not voting for the Labour candidate in the recent general election. Unfortunately our constituency got lumbered with Jewish Labour Movement chair Jeremy Newmark as a candidate in June, who was actively engaged in a simultaneous campaign to undermine Jeremy Corbyn (on the grounds that he couldn’t win an election and that the Labour leader doesn’t properly understand the issue of the Labour Party’s apparent anti-Semitism). Actually, the meeting was given fairly conclusive evidence and testimony that Margrain had - correctly - bitten the bullet and voted Labour, but this was essentially a side issue.
Despite the fact that the anti-Semitism issue was a clear bluff (the right wanted to exclude a pro-Corbyn supporter who was obviously going to be hostile to the Jewish Labour Movement), Margrain made himself largely unsupportable by the assertion on his blog that: “It’s the overrepresentation of Jews in the capitalist ruling class that gives the Israel-Zionist lobby its power.” This use of an anti-Semitic stereotype around ‘Jewish capitalists’ severely undermined his case and lent unfortunate credence to the moves against him. The meeting excluded Margrain on a 44-18 vote (with the decision to be forwarded to the dreaded Labour compliance unit), although there was a big batch of abstentions. My perception is that the resolution to reject the membership of Margrain would have fallen if he had not used anti-Semitic tropes and the issue had been more squarely focused on his right to criticise Israel and the Jewish Labour Movement.
It’s currently difficult to move Labour Party centrists in the CLP on the issue of ‘anti-Semitism’ and they tend to vote with the right on such matters. This was similarly shown by a regrettable decision for the CLP to affiliate to the Jewish Labour Movement by a large majority (due to the appalling chairing of the meeting and a subsequent lack of information, I lack the exact figures), where the centrists voted with the right, leaving only the hard-core left in opposition. When a ‘softer’ leftwing resolution came into play, calling for the Labour Party to actively campaign against Trident, the centrists were happy to go along with this, resulting in a decent majority in favour (again, the precise vote was unclear).
However, the left’s argumentation on the Margrain issue was an appalling defence (contrary to a report from “sources” in The Jewish Chronicle by Lee Harpin on July 28, there was only one identifiable member of Momentum at the meeting, not “a sizeable number”). One comrade made an announcement that he knew Margrain personally and that they had written together in a book (what precisely this had to do with the matter at hand was anyone’s guess). Another comrade, while trying to defend a right of tolerance and free speech, dug herself into semantic knots trying to justify Margrain’s use of anti-Jewish stereotypes before saying that she hadn’t found MP Anne Marie Morris’s recent use of the word ‘nigger’ offensive - not the brightest example to use in the circumstances. In short, the left argued like an ill-disciplined, uncoordinated and silly rabble - useless for the task at hand.
This wasn’t helped by the inability of the chair - councillor Alon Or-bach, also interim chair of the London Jewish Labour Movement - to cope with a large, vociferous meeting. First, Or-bach had a clear conflict of interest on the Margrain issue. As he admitted to the meeting later, he could never deign to meet up with Margrain to discuss his case, so “personally upset” was he at the remarks made on the blog post. Which suggests that he shouldn’t have been chairing this part of the meeting at all, if he felt that emotional. However, despite some leftwing members of the meeting complaining about ‘biased’ chairing, I felt Or-bach simply didn’t have the political chops to realise that he needed to mix up the ‘for’ and ‘against’ speakers to get a flow of debate going.
The meeting degenerated into complete farce at the end, when there was a censure passed on another member (who by then had left the meeting), who had supposedly complained of the “Jewish press” attacking Jeremy Corbyn. Actually, what I think she meant, if you listened to her remarks in context, was that The Jewish Chronicle was attacking Corbyn (ie, stating the bleeding obvious).
The particular foam-flecked rightwinger who quickly talked councillor Or-bach (who didn’t need much seducing, it must be said) into putting this censure to the vote said, wouldn’t it be terrible if the press got hold of all these so-called anti-Semitic statements being bandied around in the CLP? And, lo and behold, two days later we have a report in The Jewish Chronicle where an unnamed source says: “There were allegations it was another example of how the ‘Jewish’ press had launched a smear campaign against Jeremy Corbyn.” Most CLP members will have a fairly shrewd idea of where that came from.
Until the left starts properly organising itself in Finchley and Golders Green, we can expect more - much more - of the same.
Tony Clark closes his gallant defence of peak oil theory by once again rubbishing Karl Marx (Letters, July 27).
Having previously accused Marx of being in thrall to the thoroughly bourgeois notion that ‘money makes the world go round’, he now dismisses his “most famous” statement in the Communist manifesto: “The history of all hitherto existing society is the history of class struggles”. A “notorious falsehood,” comrade Clark says - as if he has discovered some gigantic lie. What about “primitive communists societies”?! Nor, says comrade Clark, has he “met many Marxists who know” that this “is untrue”.
Obviously, Jack Conrad brought the “class struggles” statement into play against comrade Clark for the simple purpose of showing that Marx did not believe that ‘money makes the world go round’. And, of course, Engels inserted a well known ‘corrective’ footnote to the 1888 English edition of the Communist manifesto. Presumably in his day Engels encountered more than his fair share of pedants.
Anyway here is Engels’s footnote:
“That is, all written history. In 1847, the prehistory of society, the social organisation existing previous to recorded history, was all but unknown. Since then, August von Haxthausen (1792-1866) discovered common ownership of land in Russia, Georg Ludwig von Maurer proved it to be the social foundation from which all Teutonic races started in history, and, by and by, village communities were found to be, or to have been, the primitive form of society everywhere from India to Ireland. The inner organisation of this primitive, communistic society was laid bare, in its typical form, by Lewis Henry Morgan’s (1818-1861) crowning discovery of the true nature of the gens and its relation to the tribe. With the dissolution of the primeval communities, society begins to be differentiated into separate and finally antagonistic classes. I have attempted to retrace this dissolution in The origin of the family, private property, and the state.”
If the Marxist comrades Clark encounters are unaware of this ‘corrective’, all I can says is that he ought to meet a few more Marxists. After all, Engels’ ‘corrective’ - to the truth about class struggles - now appears in every edition. The truth, needless to say, is rarely absolute, usually partial and approximate.
With that in mind, it should be pointed out that we now know that primitive, or original, communism, relies on a form of ‘class’ struggle. The permanent, but always contested, culture of militant counter-dominance ensures that alpha males remain the servant of the tribe, not become the master (see the work of Christopher Boehm, Sarah Hrdy, Chris Knight and Camilla Power).
I should add that in German Geschichte, Historie and Prähistorie are all distinguished. Geschichte denotes the actual events of the past; Historie is the work of historians about these events; Prähistorie refers to the period before written records. In the Communist manifesto Marx and Engels use the term Geschichte. In English, however, history not only denotes the past, but also the work of historians, analysis of written records, etc. Prehistory, of course, carries connotations of what is completely outdated, but also, as with German, before written records.
Baker’s End, Hertfordshire
I read with interest the comments of Tony Clark in the previous edition. I will leave unremarked the main subjects of his letter, but one point I must take up is his criticism of Marx and his “most famous statement” - that being, of course, “The history of all hitherto existing society is the history of class struggle”.
Tony decries this statement as being “one of the most notorious falsehoods ever pronounced by anyone”, because it “ignores thousands of years of primitive communist societies, when there was no class struggle”. This is completely incorrect.
Aside from the fact that Marx is referring to written history, one can only assume that Tony is ignorant of the elaboration Marx gave to this famous statement in the preface to a German edition of the Communist manifesto,which reads as follows:
“… ever since the dissolution of the primeval communal ownership of land, all history has been a history of class struggles, of struggles between exploited and exploiting, between dominated and dominating classes at various stages of social evolution …”
I’m afraid that attempting to refute accusations of “profound ignorance of Marx” by demonstrating what can only be described as profound ignorance of Marx will not convince many.
The situation in Venezuela looks very harsh and bleak. Imperialism is sending out a message to the downtrodden of the world - if you try to stand up to us we will make you go hungry. The socialist movement needs to draw some lessons - we need to build an international movement that has a credible international plan of how the working class can take power and not be crushed by imperialist subversion and blockade.
Taking power in only one country without a good chance of other countries following suit quickly is a recipe for defeat and demoralisation. Of course, the working class did not take power in Venezuela. A military, anti-imperialist, left-nationalist regime did. But even if the working class had taken power - if the socialist revolution did not spread quickly - the result would have been similar: hunger and social dislocation.
In any case it could be argued that the working class will not take power anywhere unless it can see that the revolution has an international character and can win in the imperialist centres.
Just a note on the Polish situation. I have been following this with my Polish friend who was recently in Gdansk - where Lech Walesa gave a speech denouncing the planned changes to a well attended open-air meeting. This has been covered by our general media.
Your Polish letter-writer, Andzrej Zorawski, says: “On July 20, the conservative majority in the Polish parliament voted to disband the country’s supreme court. All judges will now be appointed from governmental candidates” (July 27). This is not my understanding. The Polish president used his veto powers to stop that from happening.
There were three planned changes to the courts and the president vetoed two of them. He has sent them back for consideration or amendment (the signature of the president is required for the passage of bills to be complete). The president is from the same party as the one in charge of government, the Law and Justice Party. This would usually mean the signature could be banked upon. Large public demonstrations and condemnation from European capitals and a warning that Poland might be stripped of its voting rights - something unprecedented - have influenced the Polish president into using his veto rights.
The law not vetoed by the president is one which gives the government the right to appoint judges in the common law courts. But this is easily trumped by not having the powers to appoint the highest court judges.
In the same issue the John Bridge letter is a classic of its kind. It’s written in the style where a thousand different variations could be written. It’s essentially dishonest. A little quote here, another quote there - you can create history of any kind that way. But you’re always reliant on the writer and that shouldn’t be the case. We should always start from a common concrete perspective.
It’s the blatant playing around with interpretations which sends us all round the bend. There is truth to be got - but not in those kinds of hands.
The attitude of the left - even and sometimes especially the far left - towards Brexit demonstrates just how tied in they all are to neoliberalism and capitalist globalisation, the highest stage of imperialism, as a progressive ideology and practice.
Freedom of movement and ‘no borders’, they claim, is a right for workers who are forced by it into 10-to-a-room slums on zero-hour contracts at the mercy of gangmasters, if they are lucky, or left behind to rot in sink communities, estates and schools unable to compete for the lowliest local job if they are not.
Of course, capitalist Brexit is not going to solve anything - how could it when capitalism is dead? - but to hanker for the grotesque excesses of capitalist globalisation and the failed ideology of neoliberalism demonstrates a rank decomposition on the left to match that of the capitalist system itself. The left - the revolutionary left - will have to be rebuilt from its very foundations if the world proletarian revolution is ever to transcend crumbling globalisation and launch humankind on the next leg of its historic journey.