There ain’t no witches

Step up the campaign

David Shearer of Labour Party Marxists reports on the latest plans and developments

A useful, but highly contentious, organising meeting of Labour Against the Witchhunt took place in London on December 2, attended by around 30 comrades. LAW was set up in October to campaign against the ongoing war of smears, suspensions and expulsions - which has as its ultimate aim the removal of all trace of the current Jeremy Corbyn leadership and returning the party into the safe hands of the pro-capitalist right.

The campaign has three basic demands:

Two comrades falsely accused of anti-Semitism and currently suspended from Labour addressed the meeting. The first was Tony Greenstein - a member of LAW’s steering committee, who chaired the meeting - the second was Marc Wadsworth (see p4).

Comrade Greenstein gave an update on his case, informing comrades that his disciplinary hearing in front of Labour’s national constitutional committee for alleged ‘anti-Semitism’ is set for December 11. However, he has been given insufficient time to prepare his case and is seeking an injunction in the high court - which will be considered on December 7 - to force Labour to postpone the hearing. Comrade Greenstein said he would welcome the attendance of other comrades at the high court.

In the meantime, LAW is organising what it hopes will be a public launch meeting on January 29. Ken Loach has already agreed to speak and a number of others such as Tariq Ali and Ken Livingstone have been invited. However, the room provisionally booked (in Conway Hall, central London) has a relatively small capacity and the meeting agreed that we should try to get something larger - perhaps a trade union might help secure a venue. It was also agreed that it was essential that we get the unions on board.

A number of local reports were heard, including from Birmingham and Oxford. Although no-one was present from Sheffield, we heard that the local Momentum group had voted narrowly to exclude from voting or standing for officer posts anyone suspended or expelled from the Labour Party. In other words, if you have been targeted by the Labour right, Momentum will go along with that and exclude you from membership too. It was agreed that anyone taking this position could not be a member of LAW.

In similar vein, the meeting agreed that Ann Black should in future not be included on any NEC slates supported by the left - comrade Greenstein pointed out that she had been responsible for the suspension of both Wallasey and Brighton and Hove Constituency Labour Parties.

It was also agreed that we should take a more proactive position in relation to Labour’s democracy review. We should ignore the review’s prescribed limits, and make submissions which challenge the present disciplinary regime in the party from top to bottom. We will provide a model motion encouraging them, while comrade Greenstein will incorporate the most useful recommendations of the Chakrabarti report into a draft LAW submission.

Although comrade Pete Firmin has resigned from the steering committee, following Saturday’s meeting the SC is now larger than before. We agreed that both Steve Price and comrade Deborah Hobson of the Grassroots Black Left (GBL) should join the committee alongside Jackie Walker (chair), Tony Greenstein (vice-chair) and Stan Keable (secretary/treasurer) - the officer posts being determined by the SC itself.

The meeting further agreed a model motion against unjust suspensions and expulsions, which had originally been adopted by the GBL, but has subsequently been accepted by at least two CLPs that are not particularly renowned for their leftwing composition. The motion (see below) should be sent to Iain McNicol for discussion by the NEC if it is agreed by Labour CLPs and union branches.

Socialist Fight

The meeting included a discussion on the participation within LAW of Socialist Fight. The steering committee had taken the decision to exclude SF from the campaign because of the group’s position on Jews, which can only be described as anti-Semitic.

SF declares that Jewish “overrepresentation” amongst the bourgeoisie is a major factor explaining imperialist backing for Israel. At the meeting itself SF’s Ian Donovan stated that, while this “overrepresentation” “doesn’t determine everything”, it “determines quite a lot”. He also talked about the undue influence of “Jewish communalist politics”, while the SF leaflet handed out at the meeting stated that “Jews” today have become “an oppressor people”.

The SC sought approval from the meeting for its decision to exclude SF from LAW - on the basis that a campaign which places a large emphasis on its opposition to the disgraceful, knowingly false accusations of ‘anti-Semitism’ wielded by the right against principled anti-racists should not itself tolerate individuals whose public pronouncements are clearly anti-Semitic. To do otherwise opens us up to claims that we cannot be taken seriously when we say the right’s accusations are nothing but smears - after all, it would then appear that we ourselves cannot tell the difference between anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism.

Labour Party Marxists put forward a motion, directed against not only Socialist Fight, but also the social-imperialist Alliance for Workers’ Liberty:

LAW does not wish to be associated with those who excuse the ongoing witch-hunt in the Labour Party: ie, support the expulsion of Ken Livingstone. Nor do we wish to associate with those who advocate anti-Semitism: ie, those who explain US and other imperialist countries’ foreign policy on the basis of the number of Jews in the ruling class.

Unfortunately neither this motion nor one from the steering committee, which called for its decision to exclude SF to be endorsed, was successful. Only nine comrades were in favour of endorsing the SC position, with 12 against, plus a number of abstentions; as for the LPM motion, there were 12 votes in favour and 12 against, and so it was not carried either.

One of the arguments that carried a good deal of weight amongst those who voted against was the claim that an organisation set up to oppose exclusions should not itself exclude people. SF’s own motion quoted the official (but largely ignored) Labour Party position that “the mere holding or expression of beliefs and opinions” should not be grounds for exclusion.

This is at best a highly naive position. Should we welcome into LAW out-and-out reactionaries and open racists? (I am not, obviously, including SF in this category, whose comrades seem to sincerely believe that their line is not anti-Semitic!). There is also a difference between a specific campaign like LAW and a party like Labour, which today contains all manner of viewpoints, not least warmongers such as Tony Blair.

At least the SF motion - which not only favoured ‘free expression’ (including for anti-Semites) within LAW, but also called on the campaign to invite George Galloway to “play the role of our honorary president” - was also defeated. It received five votes, while eight comrades opposed it - the clear winners on this occasion were the abstainers.

While, of course, we in LPM accept LAW’s right to make democratic decisions, the participation of Socialist Fight remains in our view a problem that might well have to be revisited.

But let that not detract from the useful role that LAW intends to play - now is the time to really step up the campaign.

Model motion

This branch/CLP notes the August 9 report by online political news journal Skwawkbox revealing the Information Commissioners Office ruling that Labour headquarters cannot trawl through members’ social media accounts for disciplinary purposes, as this was a breach of the Data Protection Act, because, as a ‘data controller’ under the act, it does not have permission from the members to use their data for that purpose.

We recognise that in the past two years, particularly during the Labour leadership contests of 2015 and 2016, a number of Labour members were suspended, excluded or expelled from the party. There is a great deal of evidence that many of these members and applicants were treated as such for unclear and sometimes seemingly arbitrary reasons, and often without the transparent, time-limited process based on natural justice, recommended by Labour’s Chakrabarti report into anti-Semitism and racism.

We deplore the malicious and vexatious accusations against Labour Party members and others that has resulted in their suspension from the party. And, while these accusations have sometimes been overturned, they caused a great deal of distress to the individuals involved and damaged their reputation and standing within the party and the wider community.

We call on the NEC to review the suspensions policy so that, except in exceptional circumstances of credible accusations of hate speech, violence or threats of violence or intimidation, all outstanding exclusions and suspensions should be lifted and this course of action publicly supported by the party leader.