The thought police are after you

Doing the job of the right

Momentum in Scotland seems to have joined the witch-hunt against the left. Chris Cassells reports

The witch-hunt of Labour Party socialists has taken a new, disturbing turn in Scotland, with the executive committee of the Campaign for Socialism (CfS - Momentum’s counterpart in Scotland) taking the lead.

Despite criticisms of the Momentum leadership’s handling of the witch-hunt and its lack of support for its victims, Jon Lansman’s organisation, to date, has preferred to let others do the actual witch-hunting. Not so CfS. In August, CfS launched its own witch-hunt against two of its members, Sandy McBurney and Colin Deans. The former’s crime was sharing an article in the CfS members Facebook group authored by the Jewish leftwing anti-Zionist writer, Robert Cohen, titled ‘The Jewish establishment’s “war Against Corbyn” risks bringing real anti-Semitism to Britain’ - an article widely shared on social media by the group, Jewish Voice for Labour. The latter was accused of anti-Semitism for stating in the same Facebook group that Jehovah’s Witnesses, Slavs, communists and trade unionists, among others, were murdered alongside Jews during the holocaust.

In neither case was any external pressure exerted on the CfS EC to instigate disciplinary proceedings - in fact, both cases appear to have been initiated by the leadership itself.

At present, CfS has no agreed disciplinary processes or code of conduct. An attempt to pass such a code at the CfS AGM in March failed after members rejected its strange and vague formulations - including, in an inversion of basic democratic principle, the stipulation that local groups are accountable to the CfS EC and that members can be expelled for “jeopardising” CfS’s relationship with the Labour Party, or indeed CfS’s “reputation”, whatever that means. Undeterred, the EC decided to adopt de facto the rejected code - though even that was modified on an ad hoc basis, as events progressed - and suspended Colin and Sandy at an EC meeting on August 4, appointing a three-person panel and setting disciplinary hearings for September 15 at the Unite offices in Glasgow.

In one of the many contraventions of natural justice, the accused were denied access to the CfS members Facebook group and therefore the evidence of their alleged misdeeds - though it turns out that the offending posts were long deleted. In Sandy’s case, the secretary could not even tell him which website the link was posted from and consistently used the wrong title for the article, claiming it was headlined ‘The Jewish war on Corbyn’. At no point was there any suggestion that the article itself was anti-Semitic: the charge related purely to the title and so its misrepresentation is of some significance.

As the 15th approached, comrades outraged at the EC’s blatant contempt for the membership and disregard for basic democratic principles began organising, in the best tradition of the labour movement, for a solidarity demonstration outside the hearings. The demonstrations were to be silent and placards were to include only slogans supportive of the two comrades, with no explicit criticism of the CfS. Three days prior to the hearing, the venue was switched “due to unforeseen circumstances” to Govanhill Baths - a community venue in the south of the city. Later that day, the accused received emails informing them:

You will be aware we have now had to cancel two potential venues for your disciplinary panel. The venues in both cases have expressed concern about the nature of the planned protest which you have endorsed, and the effect it could have on others using the building.

Neither were in fact aware of this, nor - at least in the case of Govanhill Baths - is this true. In fact, the Baths declined to play host to the witch-hunt of two Labour Party socialists on a point of principle. The argument that picket lines are intimidating and cause ‘stress and anxiety’ is, of course, a favourite of the rightwing press. In this case, it is absurd, given that the silent picket was to show support for two CfS members and had nothing at all to do with the venues.

Tried in absentia

The comrades were informed that, unless they could confirm that the picket would not go ahead - which they could not, given they had not themselves organised it - the hearing would be held in their absence and in secret. The decision of the panel would be “based solely on the evidence available” - which is to say, based on nothing, given there was no actual evidence - to which the accused would be allowed to add a written statement.

In the end, a series of questions were sent to both comrades. Both provided written responses: Colin gave sources for his post, including the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, the international committee of the Red Cross and the United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration; Sandy included statements in his defence by Robert Cohen and Jewish Voice for Labour, explaining that there was no anti-Semitic content or intent in respect to the title of the article in question. 

The questions themselves were leading, rambling, vague and, in some cases, contained basic factual errors - for example, the title of the article shared by Sandy was incorrect yet again. They were reminiscent of the sort of questioning levelled during a workplace disciplinary - with that toxic mix of officiousness, pettiness, ineptitude and self-satisfaction, usually resulting from the knowledge that the outcome is already determined. And, sure enough, on September 19 Sandy and Colin were informed that the panel had unanimously voted for their expulsion from CfS - a decision that had been ratified by the EC. There would be no right of appeal. Both remain full and active members of the Labour Party.

Members of the recently formed Labour Briefing Scotland group have called for an extraordinary general meeting to reject the expulsions and condemn the EC for acting unconstitutionally and well beyond its authority. In a sign of the depths of bureaucratism to which the EC has sunk, despite the fact that sufficient signatures from the membership had been gathered, the secretary maintained that no EGM would be held until each signatory had personally emailed him with proof of their membership of CfS. This would be simple enough to arrange, but once again it demonstrates the EC’s shameless readiness to make the rules up as it goes along.

To the outside observer this sorry tale will appear ridiculous and bizarre - largely because it is. There is simply no way that Sandy or Colin - both socialists with a long track record of anti-racist activity - have behaved in an anti-Semitic manner, or that the disciplinary process was anything other than a farce. In fact, the CfS witch-hunt is almost certainly an attempt by the leadership to get rid of two - and presumably this is just the beginning - of its most vocal leftwing critics.

The CfS has not called a members’ meeting since the AGM in March, despite being required to hold at least four a year, and is increasingly little more than a career network for aspiring Labour movement full-timers. Ordinary members are viewed at best as little more than phone-bank and door-knocking fodder, who exist only to support the career aspirations of their leaders; and at worst a liability to be gotten rid of, with no regard to democracy or natural justice.

However, socialists in the CfS, which has over 1,000 members, should stay and fight back, working to transform the organisation into a democratic, members-led, socialist movement; one that is capable of defending Corbyn, fighting for the democratisation of the Labour Party, and winning a Labour government capable of implementing pro-working class reforms at the next general election.