Scottish Labour left: Democracy be damned
Momentum’s counterpart in Scotland continues to thwart the wishes of its members, reports Chris Cassells
The executive committee of the Campaign for Socialism is continuing its campaign against socialists by ignoring a call by members for an extraordinary general meeting and severing its longstanding link with Labour Briefing.1
The call for an EGM was first made by 19 members of CfS in response to the executive’s decision to expel two of their most outspoken critics - both lifelong socialists and anti-racists - on bogus charges of anti-Semitism, despite having no constitutional authority to do so and no evidence to support its absurd allegations. In an attempt to obstruct the call, the CfS secretary insisted that each member email him individually to request an EGM, with accompanying proof of membership. This was duly arranged by the Labour Briefing Scotland group - set up earlier this year by socialists within CfS to oppose the executive’s rightward shift - and duly blocked, once again, by the indefatigable secretary.
Claiming that the required threshold to trigger an EGM had not been met - the constitution requires that a minimum of 15 members support the call, which was exceeded in the initial petition and, to the best of Labour Briefing Scotland’s knowledge, exceeded again in the individual emails - the secretary went on to claim that the petition for the EGM and the accompanying motion was, irrespective of how many members supported it, “not competent”.
The motion itself was a straightforward reprimand of the executive for their witch-hunt of Sandy McBurney and Colin Deans, and a demand that the pair be reinstated to the organisation with an apology. It referenced the failed attempt by the executive to pass a draconian disciplinary code at the 2018 AGM and suggested that by effectively going ahead and implementing that code anyway - albeit in a disorganised, ad hoc and at times farcical manner - the executive had exceeded its constitutional authority.
Those aware of the case of McBurney and Deans will remember that no evidence was presented to support the defamatory charges made by the executive, their hearings were held in secret in the absence of the accused, and that both were denied the right of appeal.2
In justifying the executive’s decision to rule that the motion was “not competent”, the secretary informed all of those who called for an EGM that “the executive has always had the power to accept or end an individual’s membership”. He added: “We have a duty of care to all members in CfS, and absolutely reserve the right to remove individuals if there is a risk of physical or mental harm to others or a serious risk to the reputation of the organisation.” Of the executive’s failed attempt to pass a disciplinary code at this year’s AGM, he wrote:
This did not mean, however, that the executive had no right to end an individual’s membership. It merely meant that the new proposed process was rejected and, as such, the status quo was reverted to: that is, the executive retained the right to oversee the membership and disciplinary process as they required.
Presumably McBurney and Deans present a “serious risk to the reputation of the organisation” rather than a risk of physical or mental harm to others. Yet this is the first time reputational risk has been invoked in relation to either case, as the two were supposedly expelled for a breach of CfS’s aims and objectives. In terms of the executive’s right to oversee membership and disciplinary process, it is clearly of the view that it can do what it pleases. Usually a constitution exists in order to codify the rights of members and the powers of officers, etc - and the executive apparently agreed back in March when it tried to amend the constitution to include a new disciplinary code. However, it has since decided that it is easier just to make things up as it goes along to suit itself (however excruciatingly bad it is at it - with the secretary’s displays of incompetence and bureaucratic cretinism being particularly outstanding).
Unfortunately this points toward the most disheartening aspect of the whole sorry affair: that the nascent left opposition within CfS has, so far, been unable to effectively counter the manoeuvring of even this most hapless of executives. The problem lies in the fact that the present executive has effectively shut down CfS as a membership organisation, so there is no forum in which the leadership can be challenged. Outside of the AGM, meetings are few and far between and it is not entirely clear what the executive actually does on a day-to-day basis - apart from expending energy in frustrating its own membership, from the McBurney-Deans affair to the ongoing breakdown in communications with its own youth section, SLYS.
Whenever a political discussion emerges at one of the rare members’ meetings, it is invariably remitted for deliberation by the executive or further discussion - a particular favourite being the promise of a future ‘day school’, which then never takes place. Doubtless, for the executive, politics gets in the way of securing jobs and positions in the labour bureaucracy and is to be avoided at all costs. Not one of the present leadership has a discernible political outlook: it is anyone’s guess what its members’ position is on key issues like Brexit, Labour Party democracy or the programme of a future Labour government, never mind any sense of their actual politics (beyond opportunism and Stalinist political methods). They seemingly understand - and in some cases relish - their role as the loyal opposition to the Labour right: they are tolerated and given access to roles in the bureaucracy, so long as they provide reliable leftwing cover for the right, all the while keeping in check any outbreaks of radicalism or militancy from the left grassroots membership.
The recent decision to break relations with Labour Briefing, on the basis that “Briefing has posted and shared content which has been attacking CfS and the executive in particular”, speaks volumes about the executive’s tolerance for political discussion and internal democracy. The decision is further justified on the grounds that “It is clear that we have reached different political positions and priorities”. This is likely a reference to Briefing’s support for victims of the ongoing Labour witch-hunt - this must make uncomfortable reading for the CfS leadership, since it is engaged in its own witch-hunt.
However, underlying this disagreement is a more fundamental political split between, on the one hand, those British road to socialism social democrats and Stalinists, who hope to compromise, vacillate and betray their way to a Labour government at any cost; and genuine socialists, on the other, who have no illusions that socialism can be legislated into existence, but nonetheless believe that the election of a Labour government under Jeremy Corbyn would represent a significant step forward for the working class and an intensification of the class struggle. For socialists, more important than a Labour government is a democratic, mass socialist party - something the Labour Party has never been - where the grassroots are in the driving seat, not the bureaucrats and full-timers.
Come the next general election, there will almost certainly be another, even greater, upsurge in working class activism and support for the Labour Party - not because of John McDonnell’s realpolitiking, his support for tax cuts, etc, the party’s vague Brexit position or call for a few pence extra on the minimum wage, but because people understand that the election of a Corbyn-led Labour government represents a break with the programme of the ruling class. The fear of the ruling class is that, when Corbyn and McDonnell inevitable fail to deliver, the working class will take matters into its own hands - a fear shared by the likes of the CfS executive.
The present task of socialists in CfS is to stay and promote socialist democracy - not in the expectation that the leadership and their supporters can be won over, but in the expectation that, when there is another upsurge in working class support for the party, they, together with their timidity, clientism and bureaucratism, will be swept aside and the organisation can become a vehicle for working class self-activity, the democratic transformation of the Labour Party and the development of a socialist programme.
1. The Labour Representation Committee’s Labour Briefing incorporating Campaign for Scotland.
2. See ‘Doing the job of the right’ Weekly Worker October 4.