Step up the campaign
David Shearer of Labour Party Marxists reports on the fighting spirit evident at the June 16 national membership meeting of Labour Against the Witchhunt
Chairing the meeting was membership secretary Tina Werkmann, in the absence of Jackie Walker, who sent her apologies. Comrade Werkmann, in welcoming comrades to the meeting, reminded us that the witch-hunt is continuing - which makes it “all the more disappointing that Jeremy Corbyn is doing nothing to stop it”.
It was vice-chair Tony Greenstein who gave the political opening, noting that people had been optimistic after the replacement of rightwing general secretary Iain McNicol by Corbynista Jennie Formby. But things have not noticeably changed, he said - since Formby’s appointment we have seen the expulsion of Marc Wadsworth for the ‘crime’ of criticising pro-Zionist Labour MP Ruth Smeeth.
We have also seen the rekindling of the ‘anti-Semitism’ smear campaign, thanks to the ‘rediscovery’ of a mural from six years ago. This was an example of something being “kept in the cupboard” to be reproduced at the right moment, he thought. Then there was the March 26 ‘Enough is enough’ demonstration calling on Corbyn to boot out all those ‘anti-Semites’. This must have been the first ever ‘anti-racist’ demonstration organised by the Board of Deputies of British Jews, said comrade Greenstein - what a contrast to the 1936 battle of Cable Street, when the BoD advised Jews to stay at home. Other well known ‘anti-racists’ present included Norman Tebbit of ‘cricket test’ fame and the reactionaries of Northern Ireland’s Democratic Unionist Party.
We have also seen the forced resignation from the national executive of Christine Shawcroft, who was clearly pressurised by Corbyn. Likewise Ken Livingstone following the totally one-sided comments of Shami Chakrabarti, for whom Zionism is “a form of identity politics”. Chakrabarti had pre-empted the disciplinary process by stating that Livingstone should be expelled - he had, after all, refused to withdraw comments that are so “offensive” to Jews (read: Zionists), to the effect that the early Nazi government had collaborated with German Zionism. The fact that this is correct is irrelevant, of course - but Livingstone eventually did his duty and resigned from the party at Corbyn’s behest.
Comrade Greenstein reminded us of the pressure put on Corbyn by the BoD, which demanded that not only the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance definition of anti-Semitism be adopted by Labour, but all 11 of its patently pro-Zionist examples as well. In this context a bright point has been the appointment of Gordon Nardell, a former member of the Labour Representation Committee, as the party’s counsel on disciplinary matters, who has stated that the examples should not be included in any definition. But comrade Greenstein predicted somewhat pessimistically that Nardell will eventually “fall on his sword”. The problem is that Corbyn has decided that the best course is to appease the witch-hunters - even though their main target is the Labour leader himself.
There followed a wide-ranging debate, with James Harvey of Labour Party Marxists pointing out that the ‘anti-Semitism’ smears were not the right’s only weapon: absurd allegations of ‘bullying’ and ‘abuse’ were being constantly levelled by the right, and there were scores of low-profile cases involving the suspension of those accused. Another LPM comrade, John Bridge, pointed out that, while the use of such allegations had long been part of the right’s weaponry, it was true that Labour’s internal war was being conducted at every level.
Comrade Bridge stated that Corbyn’s priority was the achievement of an anti-austerity government and, if that means sacrificing long-term allies like Livingstone and Shawcroft, so be it. They were urged to “jump” for “the benefit of a Labour government”. Corbyn and the Labour left need to grow a backbone - the more he fails to fight back, the more he is tamed.
However, at the moment Corbyn is still regarded as ‘untrustworthy’ by the establishment and there is no guarantee that if Labour is the biggest party following the next election the monarch will call him, as opposed to someone ‘safer’, to form a government.
Responding to this scenario, comrade Greenstein thought it was “far-fetched” - although other LPM comrades pointed to past examples of how the monarchy - or presidency - had been used to influence the choice of government in favour of the establishment in other countries.
In other contributions, it was pointed out that we should not forget about the Chakrabarti report, which could still be “a weapon in our hands.” There was general agreement that “more and more attacks” were being made on members by the right and that we need to “stand up and make a noise” to defend targeted comrades.
The meeting went on to discuss specific disciplinary cases - including that of Stan Keable, who has been dismissed from his job by Hammersmith and Fulham council for anti-Zionist comments he made in an exchange with a Zionist partisan at the ‘Enough is enough’ demonstration. Comrade Keable warned that his case may be the first of many when the witch-hunt and attacks on free speech are exported from the Labour Party into the world of employment.
While he would never appeal to the bourgeois courts in a dispute within Labour, continued comrade Keable, he certainly intends to do that in relation to his employer. Which is why he has launched an appeal for funds. His appeal against dismissal is to be heard on June 26 and there was some discussion as to whether LAW should mount a lobby, but in the end it was decided that a better idea would be to lobby a meeting of the council itself.
As one comrade commented, the weaponisation of anti-Semitism smears within the workplace was a significant development that went way beyond the Labour Party. This campaign must be stepped up in every possible way.
Another comrade, Ash Small, reported on his own case - he has been suspended from Labour for over a year for allegedly anti-Semitic social media comments, which he strongly denies. Afterwards, comrade Small made a good point on Facebook: “The hundred-odd quid it cost me on trains and taxis were well worth it just to spend a couple of hours chatting to like-minded people.” But what really struck him was “how diverse we are, yet we all share common values”.
The case of Marc Wadsworth inevitably gave rise to comments about the departure from LAW of Grassroots Black Left, of which comrade Wadsworth is a leading light. Comrade Sam Gisagara was “disappointed” with the comrades’ decision to resign, which he said had not been put to the GBL membership. However, irrespective of GBL’s departure, LAW will continue to do everything it can to fight for comrade Wadsworth’s reinstatement - it was the main driving force behind the recent series of meetings across the country.
Several comrades remarked that all these cases pointed to the need to step up our opposition through the setting up of more local LAW groups - at present there are 14 across the country. There are around 250 paid-up LAW members and many more on its mailing list and unofficial Facebook group. LAW’s open letter has so far been signed by more than 7,000 people.
The meeting went on to discuss LAW’s plans around the Labour annual conference in September. The intention was to highlight the gross injustice of several prominent cases, including that of Jackie Walker, whose hearing is expected very soon. LAW will be doing that via stalls, leafleting and its own fringe meetings. As comrade Bridge said, our role is to “highlight the witch-hunt”. It was obvious last year that most conference delegates were anti-Zionist and pro-Palestinian, so this would be fertile ground.
There were also plans to lobby Labour’s next NEC meeting on July 17, together with comrade Walker’s hearing, when the date is known.
Finally, LAW is to hold its first national conference in the autumn, when a constitution will be adopted and a new steering committee elected.