Keeping the law out of the internal affairs of the workers’ movement is, in general, a sound socialist principle. Our movement grew through illegal struggles (Tolpuddle), despite damaging intervention by the capitalist courts (Taff Vale).
Nevertheless, Tony Greenstein’s successful injunction hearing in the high court on December 7 exposed the appalling politically motivated unfairness and inflexibility in disciplinary matters, not only of Labour’s unelected officials, acting - according to the party’s rules - “under the instructions of the national executive committee”, but also of the 11-person national constitutional committee elected annually by conference. Mr Justice Phillips found that the party has a contractual obligation to treat its members flexibly and fairly, but had rejected “brusquely and without real reasons” Tony’s “eminently reasonable and fair” request to postpone his December 11 disciplinary hearing until January.
Ms Nathalie O’Connor, representing Labour general secretary Ian McNicol, claimed: “We have ensured fairness, because we specifically considered whether to extend time” - but decided not to. “The NCC does stick to fairly rigid time frames for hearings,” she said, but it “cannot consider delays caused before the matter was put to the NCC”. But this is untrue: it can.
The NCC - governed by chapter 1, clause IX of the Labour Party rule book - makes its own procedural guidelines and can vary them when it thinks fit: “The NCC or any panel thereof in hearing and determining charges against an individual shall have regard to procedural guidelines as determined by the NCC. The NCC shall have the power to supplement such guidelines from time to time and to modify its procedures in order to meet the circumstances of any particular case to ensure fairness …” (my emphasis).
Normally, under the guidelines adopted by the NCC, the first disciplinary letter to the “respondent” gives “about six weeks” notice of the hearing, and four weeks to submit a written response to the charges. But the NCC, in its pursuit of “fairness”, is wilfully blind about “delays caused before the matter was put to the NCC”. In this case, Tony was suspended on March 18 2016, attended an “investigatory hearing” (nothing to do with the NCC) two months later on May 30 2016, and waited to hear more for a further 17 months. Now under rule 1.IX.2 the NCC can only consider matters “presented to it by CLPs” or by “the officers of the party on the instructions of the NEC”.
So when the “officers of the party” eventually “presented the matter”, the NCC dutifully sprung into action with its November 2 2017 letter. In the light of its own normal time frame - six weeks notice of a disciplinary hearing and four weeks to prepare a written response, it should have dismissed the case as out of time. Rule 1.IX.5 states: “The NCC shall have the right to dismiss without full hearing or at any point any case presented to it which it or the panel appointed to hear the case considers by a majority vote to be frivolous, vexatious, an abuse of the processes of the NCC, or where it considers that no case to answer has been established.”
The NCC is not a sub-committee of the NEC. It is elected separately by conference, precisely in order to act independently as a watchdog against abuse by the officers or the NEC. One of the demands of Labour Against the Witchhunt is to put a three-month time limit on disciplinary procedures. Justice delayed is justice denied.
Strangely, the real question here is not ‘Why did the party’s officers take so long?’, but ‘Why did the party’s officers decide to end the delay when they did?’ They could have kept Tony in limbo indefinitely, for as long as the NEC allowed. The answer, of course, is political.
As is too often the case, news of what the party’s officers are up to is first seen in the Jewish Chronicle. Moshé Machover, expelled from Labour on October 3 2017, was reinstated at the end of the month. The October 31 JC reporting his reinstatement also announced disciplinary proceedings against Tony Greenstein, Jackie Walker and Marc Wadsworth. Two days later, the NCC started its work on Tony. Marc’s hearing is now set for January 24, Jackie’s will come soon. But Labour Against the Witchhunt will be picketing the January 23 NEC meeting demanding it drop these cases.
Recent mainstream media reports have focused on the supposed takeover of Labour by Momentum. For example, in Haringey an outbreak of democracy voted out councillors supporting the Haringey Development Vehicle and voted in those opposed to it. This was characterised by those ousted as a ruthless purge, a coup, combined with fear and intimidation, using the same tropes that had been thrown at Militant in the 1980s. Any reasonable person looking at the facts on the ground would support what Momentum is trying to do despite the negative publicity.
In Manchester, for example, there is substantial ongoing house-building. But only 8% of the approvals that have gone through the planning stage in the past period are designated affordable housing. House prices are increasing and the situation is similar to London. So when the Financial Times touts Manchester as the place to invest, housing is the target with subsequent gentrification. The message by the FT to investment vehicles is clear: speculate. And this is the city where many of the famous landmarks that Engels wrote about in the Condition of the working class are paved over and overshadowed by towering blocks of concrete and glass.
However, in Manchester, there is an ongoing battle between Momentum and Corbyn supporters, on the one side, and the Labour right, Manchester establishment and Blairite MPs such as Lucy Powell, on the other. So, yes, by all means we will purge the right, we will be ruthless, we will be organised, we will inculcate fear into the right, who have had it easy for too long for supporting politics and policies that lost Labour the vote during the Blair years.
But the left have also to be prepared about what it does with the power, once it has it. Yet much of the left is woefully short of ideas. There are ideas for policies to put the Labour Party into government, but these are delusional. Currently, there are many battles to be won in opposition and many issues at local level. On a national level there is very little in the left press about what to expect from a Labour government when it does win a majority at the next election. Most of the left appear to support building a movement to keep up the pressure on the government and indirectly messaging the left in Labour to prevent any backsliding. For which at times Corbyn appears to have closed ears.
The left, including the Socialist Workers Party and Socialist Party, should be encouraged to join Labour to strengthen the forces inside Labour, but also to win the battles outside Labour.
Some really have a mission to destroy Socialist Fight. They are bitterly disappointed their initiative to get us expelled from Labour Against the Witchhunt has failed, but they won’t give up.
Back in 2010, the Jerusalem Post boasted that 51 of the 100 most powerful men in the world were Jewish. In the USA, 48 of the top 100 billionaires are Jewish. Barring the odd exception like George Soros, a modern-day Parvus, they are Zionist champions of the crimes of the state of Israel against the Palestinians. Asserting that such wealth has no influence on US foreign policy as it effects Israel is apparent political naivety, but, in reality, a capitulation to the pressure of Zionist ‘anti-Semitic’ lying propaganda.
And it has nothing to do with the Protocols of the elders of Zion. Of course, when it comes to the fundamental interests of US imperialism, this is only a secondary issue. But, on the question of war on Iran and Jerusalem, as capital, for instance, they have defeated the Obama policy there. On other international issues, Israel and their international, powerful friends simply bolster US policy, or rather the policy of the far-right, Republican wing of the US ruling class.
Of course, there are many anti-Zionist Jews and many who are revolutionary socialists. But it is useless to deny that Zionism is the dominant ideology today amongst international Jewry, like support for British imperialism is the dominant ideology in Britain. Revolutionaries must recognise contemporary reality, whilst seeking the ways and means to fight it.
Dubbing this ‘anti-Semitism’ is nonsense. Sean Matgamna made a similar charge against the Workers Revolutionary Party back in the days of Brent East, Reg Freeson, Ken Livingstone and the BBC Money programme that alleged Gaddafi and other Arab powers funded the WRP.
Of course, there was some truth in that, but the attack from Matgamna was from a rightwing, pro-imperialist opponent of the Arab world in general and its foremost anti-imperialist champions in particular.
Apparently, every time you criticised Zionism, you really meant all Jews and you were a diehard, anti-Semitic bigot. And that is still the AWL line, developed back in the early 1980s.
We are confident we will defeat that political line in the labour movement.
In the deluge of comments on Donald Trump’s announcement on his decision to recognise Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and move the US embassy from Tel Aviv to that city, one historical fact has largely been ignored.
The general international consensus regarding Jerusalem as not being part of Israel’s sovereign territory is much older than the six-days war of June 1967, when Israel annexed the eastern part of Jerusalem. In fact the special status of Jerusalem as a whole (west and east) has survived as the last remaining element of the UN partition resolution of November 1947 (UN general assembly resolution 181).
According to that resolution, Jerusalem and the surrounding area, including Bethlehem, was not to be part of either of the two states into which Palestine was to be partitioned, but a corpus separatum (separate body) under an international regime. It is for this reason that Israel’s claim to sovereignty over any part of Jerusalem - let alone its later annexation of the eastern part of the city - has not been internationally recognised. This is also the reason for the almost total international condemnation of Trump’s announcement, including the closest camp followers of the US, the so-called ‘international community’.
Since Israel often asserts that its international legitimacy stems from UNGA resolution 181, this recent purported unilateral change in the status of Jerusalem undermines Israel’s own claim for international legitimacy.
Paul Demarty’s letter (December 7) criticising my critique of Rex Dunn (‘Historical inaccuracies and theoretical overkill’, November 30) is, of course, correct that Levi-Strauss’s structuralist anthropology was an appropriation of Ferdinand Saussure’s structuralist linguistics via Roman Jakobson, with whom Levi-Strauss worked in New York in the 1940s.
This does not, however, push the matter much further back or escape the context, since it is reasonably clear that - as Paul says - what is involved is an emergence of influence of these ideas in the context of both the US academy and the French left in the 1950s-60s. Saussure opposed historical linguistics with structuralism; Levi-Strauss and Talcott Parsons appropriated the idea for anti-historicism in anthropology and in sociology; Althusser appropriated it for a form of anti-historicism, which could serve as anti-humanism.
Comrade Demarty’s more substantive points are that “ideas are not very often pushed to their limits in the minds of those who hold them. Mike wonders how any anti-foundationalist epistemology could ever provide a basis for a political project of general emancipation, but that certainly has not stopped people from trying. Certainly there is more to the rise of identitarianism than decades-old fads among French bohemian intellectuals.” These are broadly true.
In fact, my point is precisely that in the US and UK the identitarianism came first. It did so on the basis of the success of the US civil rights movement and of ‘soft Maoist’ political commitment to the people’s front and to ‘speaking bitterness’. It carried ‘anti-foundationalist epistemologies’ in its wake as a means of ontological-epistemological closure against substantive criticisms of this policy by advocates of a class orientation. (I should say that in my opinion ‘anti-foundationalism’ simply fails to achieve its nominal aim, merely creating a new set of - idealist - foundations.)
Comrade Dunn’s letter in the same issue is less helpful, because it hardly responds substantively to any of my arguments. Rather, it largely repeats in slightly different terms what he said in his original article.
There is one big political issue here. He claims that my “view of 1968 echoed the French Communist Party’s” and that Stalinism “smashed subsequent revolutions in 1936, 1944 and 1968”. I agree in substance as to 1936 and 1944, but still maintain that comrade Dunn radically overestimates what was possible in 1968.
The issue is one of great political importance, because the modern western far left’s idea of revolution is as something like 1968 - a large, purely spontaneous movement, in which a microscopic group could become mass and take power - but this time successfully. This idea is delusive. And it is one of the fundamental reasons why this left fails to do what it could do - that is, to create a serious minority party which aims to become a mass party-movement, and which really aims for workers’ power. Instead, the far left endlessly tries to light the “single spark that lights the prairie fire” (Mao) through strikes, demos, fash-bash and broad-frontism.
Much less importantly, but again actually sort of responding to what I said, comrade Dunn comments that “Wearing spectacles cannot be compared with full transgenders”. I agree. In fact, in my article I went on to say that “These are trivial compared to the tech used by people who need artificial limbs, or whatever. Closer to sex, women routinely use mechanical or hormonal technology to prevent conception ...”
The underlying point here is that the telos or species-being of humanity is at least in part about creativity, and this creativity is as much about tech tinkering of one sort or another as it is about art. Indeed, the emergence of ‘high art’ as sharply distinct from artisan production and ‘design’ is an aspect of the alienation of labour in capitalism.
It is certainly not possible to make a case on the basis of species-being that our bodies should be excluded from all tech tinkering. I guess that it might be possible to make a case that ‘gender reassignment’ is either an illusion because the tech doesn’t really exist (Camille Paglia’s argument) or a waste of resources. I don’t myself see any need to make such an argument (there is so much other permanent use of drugs, other cosmetic surgery and other arguable wastes of resources). But such an argument certainly won’t be made by simply referring to species-being, telos and the decline of capitalism, without much more careful specific analysis of the ‘trans’ issue. Here comrade Dunn is just hand-waving.
Like some other recent cultural phenomena (robot fiction), structuralism and identity politics have their roots in the period before World War II. It was in the 1930s that Claude Lévi-Strauss, initiator of structuralism, began his championing of ‘diversity’ - a reciprocal relation with the other - while doing anthropology among the indios of Brazil.
As Simon Clarke shows in The foundations of structuralism: a critique, recommended by Mike Macnair two issues ago, Lévi-Strauss began from the abstract individual and the structures of the mental unconscious within them. What set him off on this radical alternative to western civilisation and progress was, of course, the despondency of the 30s - the recognised failure of both capitalism in the depression and of its supposed adversary, the ‘official’ Communist Party. What he came up with was a world found in the past and among small traditional societies - that of the more reciprocal ‘primitives’. In the face of both exhausted capitalism and limited socialism, this was an attempt at utopianism. In fact, it implied a framework of exchange, ‘reciprocity’ between selves who traded, which could only amount to the early capitalism that corporate capitalism had already built on and superseded.
However, this radical utopianism, along with existentialism, fermented through the 50s and 60s, joining borrowed Maoist practices of more personalised confrontation with bourgeois attitudes - ‘speaking bitterness’, ‘self-criticism’ - and finally issued in a radicalism, the major product of which was the sense that personal liberation within an interest group was the key to general liberation. No more concern with ‘objective’ structures and the alienation of commodity production, while the working class was dismissed as too inside the system - in fact conservative, like the Labour Party and Soviet Union. These self-radicals could be compared to those cults in pre-Christian Rome that rejected established religion.
In the late 1970s, the radicals graduated into local government and academia, taking up theory - structuralism and poststructuralism - as well as identity politics, not just to be fair to everyone in the present, but to imagine a diverse future of reciprocal others, as Lévi-Strauss had envisioned. But, instead of creating a movement at least united in its utopian liberalism, the project became fragmented and even antagonistic, as with the recent conflicts over free speech between feminists and trans activists.
Transgenderism does in fact show an actual ‘instability of meaning’ around the terms ‘sex’ and ‘gender’. On the one hand, it’s essentialist; on the other, anti-foundationalist - that is, ‘fluid’. On the one hand, feeling you’re in ‘the wrong body’ rejects the body as guide to your gender: gender can be fluid, opposed to one’s born sex. At the same time, a desire is stated, a mental preference, for being either-or, either manly or womanly, so reinforcing the essentiality of being one or the other. No wonder it’s a problem.
However, another word for this capacity to change is ‘Darwinian’. Darwinism, like Marxism, observes change - fluidity if you like - in the world; it’s not Aristotelian, where you are an either/or: ape or human, boy or girl, blue or pink. As Rex Dunn points out in his letter last week, Marx avowed that humans must take “conscious control, collectively, of social production and reproduction”. Male and female then are biological, inherited from nature; masculine and feminine are social constructions. So, let us change gender, sex if you like, but let’s not make this too important in the long run, lest we reinforce concepts of masculine and feminine that are ideological and social constructs.
As for the personalist politics of the last few decades, we may not disagree on the end, but can dissent on the means - no platform and no debate is no solution. If we want to achieve something more communal, though no less diverse, the structures to be changed are economic and political. Freedom and agency will be lived and equality and reciprocity gained through a broader-based politics, not through assertion of a separatist ‘self’.
We may recognise the justice of their opposition to the politics of ‘official’ communism - that cul-de-sac where Marxist revolution was parked for so many years - where the movement ignored difference as such, but we may wish in turn to criticise personal radicalism for its dismissing of the movement: that is, the necessary movement of history and politics and of getting a changed world for more than a few.
Leave him alone
Like Pavlov’s dog, the mainstream media slobbers platitudes every time North Korea launches another test missile. Listening to the blather, one would think that once Kim Jong-un has a missile capable of reaching the United States, he is going to use it in an unprovoked nuclear attack on the US mainland killing millions of Americans.
For Kim to attack the US he would have to be insane, paranoid and suicidal. Top officials in the US intelligence agencies say he is not. Director of intelligence Dan Coats has said publicly that Kim is acting very rational; secretary of state Rex Tillerson says that Kim is “not insane”. So we can rest with ease that Kim Jong-un is highly unlikely to wake up one morning and nuke America because he can.
North Korea is not an existential threat to US national security. Occasionally the mainstream media does tell the truth, but that does not sell news, or make the military-industrial-security-complex, neocons and others in the deep state happy. Instead they tell us about the latest war of words and weapon tests (usually instigated by the US, which the media does not tell us). The word-war is exacerbated every time the US threatens, insults and mocks Kim.
The US regularly practises nuclear attacks on North Korea by air, land and sea, which also get a propaganda response from Kim. North Korea has offered to stop testing nuclear bombs, if the US would stop playing nuclear war games on its border. The US has been threatening North Korea for over 70 years.
What should frighten the American people is the long history of US crazies who would start a nuclear war. Trump is not the first president that cannot be trusted with nuclear bombs. It is only by sheer luck that the world has escaped a nuclear war or a cataclysmic nuclear accident. There have been many close calls, and one day there will be one too many.
The US keeps gambling away with nuclear roulette anyway, threatening North Korea, Iran, Russia, and the enemy du jour. One of the favourite US verbal threats is to say that “all options are on the table”, which includes nuclear, but the diplomacy option is usually missing. The US has even used nuclear bombs twice against civilian populations in 1945, and according to many historians unnecessarily, because Japan had already offered to surrender. Hundreds of thousands of Japanese died, mostly so that Harry Truman could try to impress Joseph Stalin with a show of US power.
Kim Jong-un has very good reasons to fear US threats. He knows that the US is ruthless enough to kill millions of his people and destroy his country, just as the US did in Iraq and Libya. Senator John McCain’s daughter, Meghan, even said on Fox News that the US should assassinate the “crazy fat kid”. Words like that, Trump’s insults, threats and nuclear war games are going to get bombastic verbal reactions by Kim Jong-un, and cause him to redouble his nuclear and missile programmes.
While the US constantly talks about a denuclearised Korean peninsula, it is the US that first nuclearised it, starting with Truman’s threats in 1951. Then in July 1957 president Dwight D Eisenhower unilaterally withdrew from section 13(d) of the 1953 Armistice Agreement, which made the introduction of any new weapon systems in the Korean peninsula forbidden to both sides. The US broke the promise so that it could “equip US forces in Korea with modern weapons” - ie, tactical nuclear weapons. During the rest of the cold war, the US stationed at least 950 nuclear weapons in South Korea. It may have withdrawn them in 1991, as it says, but it still has plenty in Guam and elsewhere that it uses to constantly threaten North Korea.
While the mainstream media ponders how to get North Korea to sit down at the negotiating table, it is the US that refuses to talk. North Korea has often offered to sign a permanent peace treaty and non-aggression agreement, but the US has consistently rebuffed the offers. The state department has repeatedly said in news conferences that it will not negotiate with North Korea unless they meet unspecified preconditions first. Incredibly, the US and the media constantly repeat that it is North Korea that refuses to talk!
Unless there is a diplomatic solution, Kim Jong-un is rationally following in his father’s footsteps by developing a credible nuclear deterrent against US aggression. The US has left him no choice other than to defend his country with the deterrent of nuclear weapons. Bush sabotaged the negotiated nuclear agreement that the US and North Korea had made under Clinton in the 1990s. That is what precipitated North Korea withdrawing from the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, and resuming its nuclear programme.
Korea’s historical philosophy is based on the principle of self-sufficiency and resistance against foreign domination, especially in the north. The North Koreans now call their historical philosophy ‘Juche’. North Korea is determined to follow the principle of Juche to the “realisation of independence in politics, self-sufficiency in the economy and self-reliance in national defence”.
In the 21st century the US has killed millions of defenceless people all over the world with wars of aggression, and by using excessive force and total war against civilian populations. The US uses food, water and medical supplies as psychological weapons of mass destruction. As Madeleine Albright said, 500,000 dead children is “worth it” to bring a country to its knees. That is what the US sanctions are now doing to North Korea. But, as Russian president Vladimir Putin said, “North Korea will ‘eat grass’ before giving up nukes”.
All Korea has ever wanted was to be left alone. During their 4,000-year history, Korea has not been an aggressive, expansionist country. To the contrary, Korea has often been invaded by China, Mongolia, Japan, Russia and the US. Historically, Korea has resisted contact with foreigners because foreigners had always brought invasions. Like his Korean ancestors, Kim Jong-un just wants North Korea to be left alone for the Korean people to determine their own future.
David William Pear
20 years BC
Theresa May has given the EU everything that it wanted - in one case on the say-so of the DUP and in the other cases - well, just anyway. But it has taken her eight months to do so. And we are in for another four and a half years of this style of government, if ‘government’ be the word.
We need the negotiation of Brexit in the Welsh, northern and working class interests that delivers the result in its favour, including the extra £350 million per week for the national health service - something that needs to be written into the statute law. All the while rejoicing that the workers, and not the liberal bourgeoisie, were now the key swing voters who deserved direct representation on local public bodies, on national public bodies, in the media, and at the intersection of the public and media sectors in the parliamentary lobby, in the BBC, in any future structure of the Channel Four Television Corporation, in any arrangement that made possible Rupert Murdoch’s acquisition of the whole of Sky News, and so on.
If you want negotiation done properly, then you need trade unionists to do it. The government’s claim to want something like Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement with Canada, only even more so, will unite the Labour Party like nothing in years. There are people in Labour who want Brexit, and there are people who do not. But none of them wants this. Meanwhile, the wholesale capitulation of May and of John Major’s erstwhile Europe minister, David Davis, is being hailed as a triumph by the supposed Brexiteers on the Conservative benches. Those truly of that mind number barely the couple of dozen that opposed Maastricht, several of them are the same individuals, and none of them stands any more chance of becoming leader than Tony Marlow ever did. Indeed, are there even that many of them? It turns out that there may be precisely one: Philip Davies, who did not enter parliament until 2005. The likes of Iain Duncan Smith have queued up to agree with Ken Clarke and Anna Soubry.
There are half a dozen times that many Brexiteers on the Labour benches, just as there were three times as many anti-Maastricht Labour MPs as anti-Maastricht Conservatives. In any case, all Labour MPs will vote against ‘Canada plus, plus, plus’. By contrast, even the DUP is now signed up to a deal that is worse than staying in the single market and customs union would have been. But then, had the old man been dead a couple more years, then the DUP would have campaigned for ‘remain’. Are most of the DUP’s voters even in favour of Brexit? Majority opinion in Northern Ireland is to remain in both the United Kingdom and the EU, yet that is represented by precisely one out of 18 MPs - and Sylvia Hermon is an independent.
The entire Tory and Murdoch press has also rallied behind the white flag. With The Guardian about to axe Giles Fraser’s column, ‘leavers’ are left with only the Morning Star. And The Word, of course. This could be the making of The Word. I very much hope that large numbers of ‘leavers’ will become regular readers. They might then realise that the election of a Corbyn government is the only way to keep the economic and foreign policy debates open, whether or not you agree with Corbyn in any way on economic policy, in particular. Unless you want a return to the ‘centre ground’ of the 20 years BC (Before Corbyn), then you must vote Labour at the next general election, no matter what.