Civil war far from over
David Shearer of Labour Party Marxists reports on LAW’s membership meeting
Around 20 comrades attended the December 1 membership meeting of Labour Against the Witchhunt, which saw a useful discussion on the anti-Corbyn witch-hunting campaign.
As Tina Werkmann pointed out in her opening remarks from the chair, with the replacement of Ian McNicol as Labour general secretary by Jennie Formby, a halt has been called to automatic suspensions and expulsions as soon as a charge of ‘anti-Semitism’ is made. Now an ‘investigation’ is conducted, whereby the member is asked questions such as ‘Can you see how someone may be offended?’ by remarks made on social media.
However, continued comrade Werkmann, the adoption by Labour of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance ‘definition’ of anti-Semitism has meant that the scope for targeting anti-Zionists has now been widened, since a number of specific criticisms of Israel have been outlawed. Other comrades pointed out, however, that what we are seeing is a mere “lull” in the witch-hunt or, as Tony Greenstein put it in his political opening, the “calm before the storm”. As one comrade stated, once a general election campaign begins, for instance, the “shit will hit the fan” - the media will come up with a whole range of new accusations against both Jeremy Corbyn and his supporters.
Comrade Greenstein - himself expelled from Labour after being originally accused of pathetic charges of ‘anti-Semitism’ - pointed out that, despite the “lull”, Paul Johnson had been suspended by Dudley council for a Facebook post stating that Israel is a “racist endeavour”, while Peter Gregson - who was present at the meeting - has been suspended from his union for circulating a petition making the same claim.
Comrade Greenstein noted that Momentum has joined forces with the Zionist Jewish Labour Movement - one of the main forces in the anti-Corbyn witch-hunt! - to campaign against David Icke (who has, of course, been widely accused of anti-Semitism).
Also present was LAW secretary Stan Keable, who described how he had been expelled from Labour without a hearing simply for being secretary of Labour Party Marxists and earlier this year was dismissed by Hammersmith and Fulham council for engaging in a secretly recorded conversation with a Zionist on the ‘Enough is enough’ demonstration in March, when he merely noted that there had been collaboration between German Zionists and the Nazis in the 1930s.
A wide-ranging discussion took place on the use of the IHRA and the need to defend falsely accused comrades by going onto the counteroffensive - Corbyn himself should come out openly and make a stand against the targeting of the Labour left. One comrade stated that support for the boycott, divestment and sanctions campaign against Israel could itself be deemed ‘anti-Semitic’, while another pointed out how some pro-Corbyn Labour members were advising people to ‘keep their heads down’ and wait for the fuss to die down.
But, in the meantime, as another speaker said, Labour’s deputy leader, Tom Watson, has called for the dismissal of comrade Formby, because she is ‘not doing enough’ to combat the dreadful scourge of anti-Semitism that the right falsely claims has infected the party.
While LAW has strongly condemned the suspension from the GMB union of comrade Gregson, the meeting overwhelmingly rejected his motion calling for LAW to support his petition. While comrades recognised that comrade Gregson is in no way anti-Semitic, most were unhappy with the phrasing in the petition, including the notion that “Jewish leaders” - as opposed to Zionists like Binyamin Netanyahu - were against genuine democracy in Israel/Palestine.
His motion also claimed that before the adoption of the IHRA there had been “full freedom of speech on Israel” within Labour - despite the record of previous suspensions and expulsions that the meeting had already discussed. And it contained a plea to “keep the Labour Party united”, when in fact what is happening is a full-blown civil war between the pro-capitalist right and the pro-working class left. As one comrade stated, “I’m sorry - I don’t want to be ‘united’ with Tony Blair!”
Comrade Greenstein said he supported the idea of a petition, but definitely not comrade Gregson’s version, and the meeting agreed that Tony would himself draft a proposal for LAW to adopt. To his credit, comrade Gregson declared in his response to the debate that we needed to launch a “full-frontal” counterattack against the witch-hunters - otherwise “they will pick us off one by one”.
This sentiment met with comrades’ approval, but his petition did not. However, we overwhelmingly approved the model motion he had drafted for trade unions and Labour branches to adopt. This opposed the disciplining of comrades in a way that breached our “free speech on Israel”, and called for the reinstatement of comrades falsely charged. It also demanded the jettisoning of the IHRA in favour of a definition which simply states that anti-Semitism is “hostility to or prejudice against Jews”.
The meeting went on to discuss proposals for LAW’s first conference, which is scheduled to take place in London on February 2. We had already rejected a couple of proposed updating amendments to our aims on the grounds that such changes should be made at the conference itself, but the main debate focused on the nature of that event.
Comrade Greenstein proposed that Chris Williamson, Ken Livingstone and George Galloway should all be given a platform to speak at the conference, as this would help attract a greater number of participants, who would be able to join LAW on the day. But comrades from LPM in particular were against transforming the conference into a “rally”. What was needed was plenty of time for detailed discussion of our principles, as well as motions and amendments, followed by the election of the steering committee. It was argued that a rally would be a good idea, but it should be organised separately and not confused with the kind of in-depth and serious debate we need about the way forward, including discussing any differences.
In the end, the meeting rejected by a large majority invitations to Livingstone and Galloway (it was felt that they would not accept in any case), but agreed to invite comrade Williamson, who himself has been engaged in campaigning within Labour for democratisation and against the right. The possibility of a separate public meeting would be discussed by LAW’s steering committee.
All in all, the meeting was, in the view of this writer, highly constructive, despite the absence of such prominent LAW members as Jackie Walker, our chair, and Moshé Machover, who both sent their apologies. These two are amongst the numerous comrades targeted in the ‘Anti-Zionism equals anti-Semitism’ campaign - comrade Machover was quickly reinstated following a powerful upsurge challenging the ludicrous charges made against him, but comrade Walker is still awaiting a hearing after being suspended for two years!
These examples amply demonstrate that the civil war is far from over and it is essential for LAW to step up its campaigning and organisation. Please mark February 2 in your diaries.