Eddie Ford tells the activists of Extinction Rebellion that their “fighting spirit is admirable”, but that they lack “strategy and programme” (‘Fill the jails’, April 25). A bit patronising, perhaps. XR (not ER - Ford clearly hasn’t read enough to know their own chosen acronym) have just achieved a bigger mobilisation than anything produced by the far left since Stop the War. They might well wonder why they need to be lectured on their failings by an organisation whose “strategy” over the last 20 years has not enabled it to raise its membership above the 30 mark.
The first stage of XR’s campaign has forced millions of people to at least think about the threat of climate catastrophe. It has even penetrated the often closed and self-congratulatory world of the far left. Thus Alex Callinicos calls the demonstrations a “watershed” and urges “we should be part of this” (Socialist Worker April 24). Callinicos obviously feels the mantle of Tony Cliff on his shoulders, as he bends his stick towards climate change. But the SWP’s turn can only be welcomed, even if it is a little belated. At the SWP’s conference three months ago there were only passing references to climate change.
What the SWP’s turn will mean remains unclear. Shall we see professor Callinicos gluing himself to a tube train? In fact I fancy most of the SWP’s silver-haired cadre would find, if they tried to sit down in the road, that they would be unable to stand up again (this is certainly the case for myself).
XR have mobilised thousands of young and not so young activists; among their supporters there must be an amazing ferment of ideas and debate, a search for strategies and tactics to advance their campaign. It is very unlikely that they are waiting for a self-appointed ‘Leninist’ vanguard to tell them what to do next.
Eddie Ford reminds XR of the fate of the Committee of 100, though his knowledge of it seems to be largely derived from Wikipedia. Thus he tells us it was wound up in 1968 - technically true, but it made no impact whatsoever after 1962. The Committee of 100 confined its demonstrations to small sit-downs, often directed at military targets; the scale of action and use of imaginative tactics by XR has already gone far beyond anything done by the Committee of 100. And to imagine that XR are incapable of learning from history (because only the vanguard party understands history?) is plain stupid.
Ford condemns XR for its “emphasis on non-violence and pacifism”. Now I entirely agree with his argument about the role of violence in political change. But, since (to the best of my knowledge) the CPGB are not currently engaged in armed struggle, this is very much a case of juxtaposing what you do to what we say. Ford admonishes us that “to overcome capitalism requires a serious organisation and a serious programme”. I agree - but such an organisation is rather more likely to emerge from XR than from the ranks of the CPGB (or for that matter the SWP).
Given its rapid growth, I would suspect very few XR activists are committed to non-violence in principle. Rather they recognise that in the present circumstances non-violence is an effective tactic. (See the excellent article on the Marxists Internet Archive by Peter Sedgwick about the Committee of 100: ‘Non-violence - dogma or tactic?’, which still makes some relevant points.)
Perhaps the Marxist left needs to show a bit more humility and subtlety, asking - as Lenin used to do - what can be learned from the struggle. How did XR recruit, organise and train so many supporters so quickly? Surely the left should be trying to learn from this, not counterposing an abstract model of the ‘Leninist party’.
Certainly Marxists have a part to play in the struggle against climate catastrophe. The relationship between climate change and the capitalist drive for profit needs to be central. But we should be a bit cautious. I remember confidently asserting that South African apartheid could not be ended without socialist revolution. Now I’m a bit more careful about prophesying. And if those who rabbit on interminably about the ‘central role of the working class’ could deliver even one or two token strikes it would be a significant start.
In short, let’s welcome XR and try to learn from them, rather than treating them as unruly kids in need of a lecture.
There are a couple of corrections and additions I want to make to Eddie Ford’s article. Firstly he notes that Extinction Rebellion was initially established in May 2018. This is not exactly correct, as some of the people behind it were also behind Occupy, so it is a continuation and replication of Occupy’s non-violent tactics and consensual democracy.
As for its political strategy, it does have one: to protest; and now representatives of Extinction Rebellion have been mandated to meet political leaders, including in the past couple of days Michael Gove, secretary of state for the environment, mayor of London Sadiq Khan and shadow chancellor John McDonnell.
Ford is correct to say that Extinction Rebellion does not have an anti-capitalist programme. However, he is wrong to say that reducing carbon emissions to net zero by 2025 is implicitly anti-capitalist. Capitalist firms could offset their carbon emissions by investing in renewables or planting tranches of trees, which would not overturn capitalism. However, there seem to be mixed messages, with some activists arguing for a full-frontal anti-capitalist line, while others call for a Green New Deal, similar to that of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of the Democratic Socialists of America.
However, for Jeremy Corbyn to demand that the UK becomes the first country in the world to declare a climate emergency, and for Ed Miliband and Caroline Lucas to call for it to be put “on a war footing”, with an end to “climate appeasement”, is not helpful. Listening to this and some of the activists, they almost sound millenarian in outlook. What does a climate emergency mean? According to the Civil Contingencies Act 2004, an emergency can include war, attack by a foreign power or terrorists, leading to a serious threat to UK security. I don’t think many activists would like to see even more centralisation of government powers to crush human freedoms.
But Extinction Rebellion activists and the governor of the Bank of England, Mark Carney, appear to be on the same page. In a 2015 speech, Carney said the challenges currently posed by climate change pale into significance compared with what might come. Whether he would go as far as George Monbiot, who has said that climate change requires facing down capitalism, is another matter. As for Extinction Rebellion, I am not sure what they want.
The ‘inmates’ at Wisbech town council have finally ‘taken over the asylum’. The Tory-controlled council recently passed a motion that it will campaign for a ‘no-deal’ Brexit.
First, a ‘no-deal’ Brexit would lead to a hard border between north and south Ireland. Second, the M20 in Kent would become one huge lorry park. Third, the car industry in Britain would go out of business. Fourth, the City of London would become a worldwide tax haven for the super-rich. Fifth, the NHS would be sold to giant American health insurance companies.
A ‘no-deal’ Brexit would complete the ‘Thatcher revolution’, turning Britain into a deregulated, low-wage economy bereft of workers’ rights. Wisbech town council is therefore wrong to campaign for a ‘no-deal’ Brexit. It is a very good example of the kind of Tory headbangers who dominate the one-party state known as Fenland.
Anyone in Ulster over the Easter commemorations long weekend will have been hit by the wave of emotion which flowed through the republican communities and across the organisational divides following the fatal shooting of Lyra McKee in Derry.
The backdrop has been the increasing harassment of the non-constitutionalist wings of the republican movement across the board: house raids, stop and search, raids on bookshops and in supporting communities. Meantime Sinn Féin has been working overtime to isolate all non-constitutionalists and delegitimise them, even where they are no longer engaged in armed struggle. It is more or less generally accepted by everyone now that the popular armed struggle is over in this period and the compass has swung to overt political organisation and issues.
Saoradh, the political formation to which the NIRA is associated, had claimed to be ‘breaking the mould’ and making broad ventures into prominent community activity. The Irish Republican Socialist Party - in my view the most mature and realistic of the non-constitutionalist wing of republicanism - is central to discussions on how the opportunity of a border poll will be utilised. Its programme for ‘out of the EU and the UK’ stands in contrast to SF and the social democratic bloc it is trying to forge. Exactly what will the poll decide? Is this a vote for the status quo, with the Six Counties remaining in the UK, but still on the current basis within the EU customs and free movement area? Something which is sellable to the loyalist communities, but maintains UK domination. To the British state, this offers a sort of EU Hong Kong, which economically could well suit. SF seems to lean in this direction.
For the IRSP and others not in SF’s official tent, the prospect of a border poll, which goes to the root of challenging the existence of the Six Counties statelet, is a real prospect, with an end to the border and reunification on terms to be agreed possibly on the cards. These are exciting times in the political arena and far outweigh any attempt to keep the candle of armed rebellion burning. That is not to say that any serious socialist republican group should not maintain at least the capacity to defend itself and the community, should the nature of the situation change.
The republican parades through Belfast showed the strengths and weaknesses of the aspiration to republicanism, with crowds out on the street, watching in succession the various factions and wings march by to their respective rallies. The IRSP, then SF, then Saoradh. While the IRSP extended its sympathy to the partner and family of Lyra and made no criticism of the tactic, SF was far more blunt, calling on the New IRA to give up the posturing and issue an apology.
Tellingly Saoradh itself extended its sympathy and called upon the NIRA to issue an apology - something they later did. I thought this was an attempt to distance the political movement from its military wing and deflect the disgust directed toward them from all quarters.
It was telling when iconic wall murals, depicting various actions, combat and deaths in the cause of republicanism, were in the aftermath of the killing systematically defaced. The famous “Free Derry” was underscored with “Not in our name” and “RIP Lyra”. While one could see this as outrage at the death, the defacement seemed to be saying much more than that. It seemed to be saying, ‘None of this - the struggle, the resistance, internment, armed struggle - is anything to do with us now’. One would suspect that this is the reaction of Lyra’s personal friends and family, and perhaps sections of the gay community, who have felt outside the whole republican world for some time. Such a reaction would be far more damaging if it were a widespread one.
Despite the united front of churches and political parties across both countries to draw an emphatic line under the radical cause of Ireland this is unlikely to stick. Certainly the men and women who marched behind the tricolours and starry ploughs in their paramilitary uniforms, including Sinn Féin, were predominantly young and their reception in the communities would not indicate any widespread disillusionment in the cause of a 32-county Irish socialist republic.
Dave Douglass is correct: I don’t classify him as an ally of the Democratic Unionist Party (Letters, April 18). However, that doesn’t excuse his blinkered approach to Brexit and British racism.
Dave questions my assertion that the majority of the republican movement is opposed to Brexit. Well, assuming that we still consider Sinn Féin part of that movement, the Good Friday agreement notwithstanding, that statement remains true. What is clear is that the overwhelming majority of the nationalist community voted against leaving the European Union and likewise a smaller majority of the unionist community voted in favour of Brexit.
Dave says that the fact that he “favours Britain out of the EU state in no way means that I am in favour of the UK state”. I accept that, but unfortunately he has difficulty accepting that the same is true in reverse for myself. The fact that I am in favour of remaining in the EU does not mean I support it as some form of “equalitarian, progressive, socialist reformism”. I don’t. Clearly the EU is a neoliberal, pan-European entity with certain social safeguards built in order to prevent a race to the bottom. However, the alternative is not a socialist Britain, but an independent capitalist Britain, effectively under the thumb of the United States, where even the most cursory regulatory protections will go in terms of the environment, food standards and so on.
I do not accept that there is an “EU state”, as Dave asserts. The EU is a confederation of states. That is merely rightwing, little Englander propaganda. However, I do think that the EU is more progressive than its alternative, which is an independent capitalist Britain. I am in favour of visa-free travel throughout Europe without border checkpoints. I am in favour of being able to carry a European health card and be treated by the health services of any EU country. Of course, I would prefer that there was one NHS, free at the point of delivery, in the whole of Europe rather than a conglomeration of different systems, in some of which you pay upfront.
However, my main objection to the Brexit project is that it is the forces of rightwing nationalism, the Boris Johnsons and Rees-Moggs, to say nothing of the fascists, who are in the driving seat of this campaign. The main question I ask is whether or not exiting the EU will serve working class interests or not. Will it build bridges with European workers and help combat chauvinism and illusions in the British ruling class? The answer is a clear no.
I listened recently to Suresh Grover of the Southall Monitoring Group, a well-known anti-racist activist who was integrally involved in the Stephen Lawrence and Blair Peach campaigns. He described the wave of racist attacks triggered off by the referendum vote - it gave every white racist in this country confidence to tell not merely European workers, but black and Asian people, to ‘go home’.
If Dave does not understand this then he is simply blind to racism in this country. He also fails to understand that the support of much of the northern working class for Brexit stems from their defeat in the 1980s under Thatcher and subsequently. Europe has become the scapegoat and Brexit a substitute for class struggle.
I have to say that I find Dave’s talk of “a foot-loose and rootless army of casual, temporary and agency workers with no loyalty to any particular trade or industry or region” both chauvinist and shocking. The working class, as EP Thompson and Hobsbawm have shown, has been made and remade many times. The idea that there was a solid core of a white working class, whose standards were threatened by this mobile army of migrant labour, is a nonsense. When there was unemployment in Wales, workers migrated down to Kent and formed the backbone of the Kent coalfield. This has happened numerous times within the British working class.
Everything Dave is saying about unorganised workers with no loyalties to any trade was said about the Jewish refugees in the 1880s and after. It led to the Aliens Act 1905. British workers who saw their salvation in immigration legislation were essentially relying on support from their own capitalists against others. And incidentally it wasn’t trade union officials who organised Jewish workers into unions: it was self-organisation. Freedom of movement of labour may be of advantage to sections of capital. However, it is also the basis of any socialist society. Asking the state to control the movement of labour is, effectively, to ask the state to help out with improving one’s wages and conditions. It cannot but help sow illusions in the existing state.
The problem today is the political weakness of the working class, as expressed in the support of a large section of it for Brexit. Whether Dave likes it or not for the overwhelming majority this does indeed mean illusions in an independent capitalist Britain.
The suggestion that workers don’t have any nostalgia for the days of the empire is simply absurd. Belief in the myths associated with ‘Great’ Britain are unfortunately only too strong and they will get stronger with Brexit.
In his review of Paul Kelemen’s important book, The British left and Zionism - history of a divorce, comrade Tony Greenstein writes:
“In November 1969 there was the first Palestine Solidarity Conference of 300 people, although the organisation seems to have then disappeared … This was a time of considerable ferment, with the emergence of an Israeli anti-Zionist organisation, Matzpen, and the idea emerged of a democratic, unitary, secular state in the whole of Palestine …” (‘Israel and the “new anti-Semitism,”’, April 25).
This careless piece of writing seems to imply that Matzpen was somehow associated with the idea of an - inevitably bourgeois - “democratic, unitary, secular state in the whole of Palestine”. Tony surely knows that this is not the case. The idea was in fact raised by Fatah, the leading party in the Palestine Liberation Organisation, before it succumbed to the illusion of the two-state ‘solution’.
Since the mid-1960s, Matzpen advocated inclusion of Israel in a prospective socialist union or federation of the Arab East. Readers can verify this in the Matzpen website (https://matzpen.org/english).
I have explained the reasoning behind the Matzpen position in my article, ‘Palestine/Israel: Belling the cat’ (December 12 2013); and expanded on it in my article, ‘Class struggle or national war?’ (May 4 2017), which is a direct polemic against Tony, who supports the old PLO position.
Don’t expel me
The steering committee of Labour Against the Witchhunt are proposing to carry out my expulsion at their May 4 all-member meeting. The committee have put my two motions last, but set their motion about me third on the agenda, so I guess they hope to shorten the meeting considerably by expelling me early doors and avoiding having to support my two initiatives.
So what is the crime I am to stand trial on? Here is the motion:
“Labour Against the Witchhunt was set up explicitly to fight the witch-hunt against Corbyn supporters in the Labour Party. As the witch-hunt has centred on the campaign to equate anti-Zionism with anti-Semitism, LAW needs to confront any hint or trace of genuine anti-Semitism in our own ranks. That is why supporters of Socialist Fight were expelled.
“Members of LAW - and in particular Tony Greenstein - have spent considerable time and effort trying to patiently discuss and explain to Peter Gregson why some of his formulations are in our view problematic - for example, in his petition on the IHRA definition of anti-Semitism (which LAW never supported). The last straw for us was Peter Gregson’s refusal to distance himself from the holocaust denier, Nick Kollerstrom. We do not wish to be associated and tainted with holocaust denial and therefore believe that Peter Gregson can no longer remain a member of Labour Against the Witchhunt.
“We do not believe that Peter Gregson should be expelled from either the GMB union or the Labour Party. These are broad organisations of the working class that contain many different viewpoints.”
The encounter that this is based on took place by email. It arose because I sent out a link to an article by Ian Fantom on Theodor Herzl, where Ian outlines his group’s interest in the IHRA definition and makes a passing reference to a Nick Kollerstrom piece about Auschwitz. Kollerstrom is a self-declared holocaust-sceptic, who does not deny that the Nazis murdered many, many Jews, but disputes evidence around the use of Zyklon B.
The LAW motion is inaccurate in many respects, It is also wrong where it claims I refused to distance myself from Kollerstrom (who is not a “denier” anyway). If anybody reads the online account, they will see clearly that I refute Kollerstrom’s claims. I also pointed out that Fantom had no opinion either way on Kollerstrom.
When Tony first read my update, he immediately issued the threat of LAW expulsion to force me to remove the Fantom article from the update I sent out on March 22. I refused, because I don’t like being threatened and because I thought what Fantom said about Herzl - the father of Zionism and Israel’s greatest hero - was important to hear. Many consider Herzl an extremely anti-Semitic individual; he certainly would have been on the Jewish Labour Movement’s hit-list for his utterances.
In summary, the LAW steering committee are utterly wrong in their statements. Their support for Tony’s anger and arrogance is part of the problem. For what Tony says is, they appear to think, always correct. Nobody could deny the devotion Greenstein has made to the cause. But his style is hectoring and this is not the first time he has sought to cause grief. He repeatedly claims I do not know the difference between Jews and Zionists. He calls me a loose cannon.
He has misquoted me in the past. I did not say, “Jews use the holocaust”, as he claimed. I said that all Jews had leverage because of our holocaust guilt. I said “all Jews”, because all suffered equally on account of the way we treated them for the first half of last century, most particularly from 1933 to 1945; thus all have the leverage of guilt. But I have always made clear that only Zionists use that leverage. I had made the comments in the context of an article reflecting upon why most of the UK has raced to adopt the fraudulent and politicised definition of anti-Semitism that the IHRA presents. I pointed out that not just Jews have “guilt leverage”; Scots have leverage over the English because of the racism we suffered for centuries, which is why Westminster gives Scotland an extra billion pounds a year through the Barnett formula. In fact, I have a public-sector job because of this largesse, so the guilt leverage works for me too.
Around four weeks later, Tony changed his tune so much, he was presenting support statements for my GMB hearing against expulsion from the union. And then on March 5 he attended my appeal and spoke in defence of my freedom of speech. He says he now regrets this.
So what is going on with LAW? It feels to me that LAW, being essentially a defensive body, is unable to cope with mass disobedience. They consider we all put ourselves at risk by openly defying the Labour NEC. Their banner reads, “Defend free speech”, but do they? What kind of free speech do they defend? Is there some speech that is free and some that can never be free? Just as one should be free to criticise Israel, should one not be free to call someone “a fucking anti-Semite” if one feels like it? However, if by so doing, you, as an elected representative widely associated with Labour, falsely attack the leader of the party, then clearly the matter of ‘bringing the party into disrepute’ must be addressed. But I am not closely associated with LAW and I have never levelled false accusations against any LAW officer.
Thus, I don’t see why my ongoing membership of LAW is now under question. I am not heavily identified with LAW (unlike Stan, Jackie, Tony, etc), so why should an update to my petition (which none of them like anyway) cause them so much grief that they must disavow me?
Jackie herself, freshly expelled from Labour, after charges against her free speech were levelled, would, of all people, be expected to be sensitive to bogus charges. But she prefers to go along with Tony (and presumably her partner, Graham Bash of Labour Briefing, who has also declared against publishing anything I say and do) and condemn me.
The steering group say in their invitation to the May 4 meeting: “We want to discuss how we can move the campaign forward. What can we do to stop the witch-hunt? How can we engage with the emerging efforts to unite the Labour left?” The irony of doing this by carrying out a witch-burning should not be lost on any of us. A few lines further down they propose my expulsion, presumably believing the campaign can be progressed by expelling and condemning an activist who has brought over 2,000 Labour activists together to challenge bogus anti-Semitism. They don’t want to unite the left - they want to split it even more.
My boss recently told me I was a “trouble-maker”. The dictionary definition of this is one who “takes action against people in power”. Though I have never taken action against LAW steering group, I certainly seemed to have annoyed them so much they want me expelled from their club. I reckon I have been expelled, almost expelled or sacked from 10 bodies since I was 17, starting with my school (not wearing a uniform), and including Unison (for arguing with the NHS Lothian branch chair) and Edinburgh council, where I was fired after criticising the council. Recently I was expelled from the Scottish Palestine Solidarity Campaign by the organiser after I disagreed with him about Christian Zionism. And then last month the Revolutionary Communist Group in Glasgow expelled me from the Zionist Is Racism coalition.
The LAW constitution states of those likely to be expelled from the Labour Party: “An accused member should be given all the evidence submitted against them and be regarded as innocent until proven guilty. Legal representation costs to be paid by the party.” I asked the committee if LAW will do the same for me? My request was ignored.
Indeed, there is nothing in the LAW constitution permitting expulsion on matters of free speech; there is no rule that they can say I have broken. I actually think what the committee are proposing is unconstitutional. If you value LAW at all, please come along to the meeting on May 4 and help defend me. Join if you are not a member - it only costs £10.