I read Carla Roberts’ article about the smear campaign targeting Chris Williamson MP, which I thought was quite informative (‘Witch-hunt’s biggest victim’, July 11), and also attended the demonstration outside Labour Party headquarters to protest his suspension. From what I understood, Williamson was accused of bringing the party into disrepute, after a video was released of him speaking at a Momentum meeting and saying that Labour’s stance had been too “apologetic” on the issue of anti-Semitism. It seems obvious that such a minor charge shouldn’t amount to expulsion, so one would have to assume that the knives have been out for Williamson for some time.
The BBC’s political coverage could at best be described as irresponsible; at worst a character assassination or hatchet job. However, Novara Media have also repeatedly attacked Williamson over the past few months in their weekly podcasts. They claim to support the Corbyn project and are apparently of the left, with communists in their midst. In their July 4 episode, however, Max Shanly, who plays the resident expert on anything Labour in the podcasts, went into Williamson and the anti-Semitism issue in great detail and I thought it was worth interrogating their arguments: it was in my view littered with contradictions.
In the episode ironically titled ‘All the best: solidarity forever’, Max is highly critical of Williamson, claiming “he’s not of the left” and highlighting that, while he was a leader of Derby council, he ran a coalition with the Tories and “signed up to loads of shady PFI deals”, voted to bomb Libya and Iraq, and also abstained on the immigration bill that led to the Windrush scandal. Max also mentioned that Williamson has since “publicly atoned for these sins”. I wasn’t aware of those criticisms that in my view are damning if true. Max also alleged that he thought Williamson’s local members were quite pissed off with him and that the local GMB region “really fucking hate him” and “have been organising against him for a good year.
The best way I could describe Max’s nuanced argument on anti-Semitism is that he’s trying to have his cake and eat it. He alleges that “no-one is denying that there are ongoing efforts by both the state of Israel and its supporters to delegitimise those who delegitimise Israel - which all countries do, by the way”. This to me sounds like Max is minimising what could be viewed as Israeli intervention in UK ‘democracy’. And, if no-one’s denying these “efforts”, well, as far as I’m aware, no-one seems to be shouting out about them either - at least no-one in the Labour Party, because those who have spoken about it have been suspended or expelled!
He also says that anti-Semitism in the party isn’t “rife” and admits the issue has been blown way out of proportion by the media and the Labour right wing. Williamson was suspended because of the video footage of him trying to articulate this same thing, Max says. Why does Max think that Chris should be suspended for saying less about the issue of anti-Semitism than Max himself says in this episode?
Well, he clarifies: “People are trying to say it’s about Chris Williamson’s views on Palestine and everything like that, which is bollocks. It’s not about that at all. Just as it wasn’t about Palestine when Marc Wadsworth got expelled or Jackie Walker got expelled ... It’s all about their attitudes toward anti-Semitism.” But if you’re expecting Shanly to provide examples of the said attitude towards anti-Semitism, you will be disappointed.
The closest he came was when he said: “Those ‘efforts’ around Chris Williamson have had the effect of people denying ... that anti-Semitism exists and this then unwittingly educates sections of the grassroots into anti-Semitic conspiracy theories, thereby setting back those ‘efforts’ even more. And you see it quite a lot like with the way that Lansman’s treated, you know. They call Lansman a puppetmaster, and he owns Momentum, which is bollocks. Let’s just clarify this once and for all, Jon Lansman doesn’t fucking own Momentum. Momentum is a membership organisation. Jon Lansman is listed as technically the owner of the service company of Momentum. He’s the founder of Momentum and the chair of Momentum. It’s not odd that he would be listed as the owner of the company that pays all the staff and everything like that.”
I can’t quite understand Max’s point here. Jon Lansman isn’t the owner, but for all intents and purposes he is the owner, the chair and the founder? If Max is trying to downplay Lansman’s role, he fails, as clearly Lansman will wield considerable power over the organisation if he’s the chair and technically the owner.
Almost in an apparent effort to discharge Chris, Max explains: “Admittedly Chris Williamson has been egged on by a section of the old Jewish anti-Zionist left, who were mainly in Trot groups in the 70s.” But then he says that there is a difference in the way that the Americans have dealt with these “efforts”, compared to the UK: “In America there is a large Jewish left, whereas in Britain there are Jews that happen to be on the left. There isn’t a big Jewish left bloc.”
I would beg to differ on that last assertion, as Max himself had referred to the “old Jewish anti-Zionist left”. They haven’t gone anywhere. Maybe there isn’t a large Jewish leftwing bloc, but you don’t have to be Jewish to be an anti-Zionist. You just have to believe that Palestinians should have equal rights. And there are plenty of people who share that egalitarian ideal.
The main reason I went to protest the suspension of Chris was because his ideals were on display when he defended Venezuela’s democratically elected government, while the American-backed Juan Guaidó was attempting a coup. While interviewed in a BBC studio alongside Williamson, fellow Labour MP Rachel Reeves openly supported Guaidó and stated that Nicolás Maduro’s government won a “rigged” election. Williamson responded by clarifying the elections were judged by observatories such as the Jimmy Carter Institute as being among some of the safest in the world. He then went on to inform Reeves that, according to a UN rapporteur, the sanctions that the United States had imposed on Venezuela were crippling its economy and could amount to crimes against humanity.
As a subscriber to Novara Media, I would say that they should express some solidarity by standing up for the right to speak freely. What I understood from the podcast is that Max genuinely believes that, if only Chris went quietly, the machine would stop and we could slip through into the driving seat. But there is simply no way that the media and right wing of the Labour Party would be satisfied until the threat of a real left Labour government is gone. Max said it himself - the media and the Labour right blew this issue out of proportion. And Israel and its supporters will delegitimise anyone who delegitimises them.
The fact that Novara are repeating the lie - that Chris’s suspension is due to his attitude towards anti-Semitism and not to his views on Palestine - is so damaging because they allow it to gain traction by giving the illusion that it comes from a leftwing source, when really it comes from a rightwing source: the Israeli state.
The point made by Jennifer Maynard about Jon Lansman’s intolerant and totalitarian values in excluding any opinion which does not conform to his own, if true, is the same as saying Lansman is anti-democratic (Letters, July 11).
In my view the anti-democratic element in socialism is facilitated by Marxism, which previously I have argued is a doctrine which contains fundamental flaws. Note that Marxism is based on the idea of the dictatorship of the proletariat, rather than the democratic rule of the working class. This is not just a terminological difference - this difference fosters and represents different mindsets. My view is that Marxism leads to an anti-democratic movement within socialism. This was perfectly expressed by Lenin in State and revolution, when he defended dictatorship as rule untrammelled by any law. What a perfect recipe for lawless political rule, which existed in the Soviet Union under Lenin, Trotsky and Stalin.
There are two trends within socialism: the democratic and the totalitarian. This is why the socialist revolutions can lead either to the democratic rule of the working class or the anti-democratic rule of a bureaucratic elite - a new ruling caste based on social property. The totalitarian trend mostly conceals itself until after the revolution. But it is always there and is observed and remarked upon by people like Jennifer Maynard.
The Trotskyist narrative on this issue is completely wrong, in that Trotsky associated the rise of a bureaucratic caste in the Soviet Union with social backwardness and socialism in one country. The opposite is actually the case. The more advanced and complex a society is, the greater the danger of a bureaucratic caste coming to power in the aftermath of a socialist revolution. These bureaucrats already exist. All they need to come forward is the demise of the rule of the capitalist class and a socialist movement which lacks democratic values.
What does this have to do with the observations of comrade Jennifer Maynard? Well, the totalitarian values and anti-democratic behaviour of some comrades is what is required for the bureaucratic and totalitarian element to defeat the democratic element within socialism and come to power with a bit of help from Marxism. Comrade Maynard may shudder at the thought of someone like Lansman getting into a position of real power, but what she and the rest of the left need to realise is that the struggle for socialism has always contained a contradiction between the democratic and the totalitarian elements.
Lenin, Trotsky, Stalin and Mao all waged war against bureaucracy - ultimately to no avail, because they did not see clearly that within socialism is a totalitarian element opposed to democratic rule and that this relates to two class forces: the working class and the petty bourgeoisie. The basic question everyone needs to ask is: which side am I on, the totalitarian or the democratic element within socialism? Those who don’t want Orwell’s prophecy to come true, those who don’t want 1984, must support the democratic element within socialism and oppose the forces of totalitarianism.
I wanted you to be aware of a discussion going on in the States. My few friends that read the Weekly Worker, as well as myself, would never use ‘shekel’, as your author did (‘Taaffe counts his shekels’, July 18).
This actually has nothing to do with political correctness, and I’m not offended. Rather - as in my case - almost 50 years of being called anti-Semitic makes me judicious in how I express myself (on this matter, anyway), even with so significant a minority of Jewish comrades sharing my views, often vocally.
This shit in the Labour Party isn’t going away soon: you’re just getting started over there, and if you think you’ve seen ugly so far, think again. To ‘veterans’ on the left like me, who have been on the receiving end of these accusations since the Vietnam war, you in the UK look like you got blindsided. Too bad you didn’t have any friendly US expats over there, who could have warned you.
I only mentioned Steve Freeman in passing in a recent letter (July 11) and I now realise my gross mistake in referring to someone so obviously desperate for attention. I now feel a bit like the bloke who’s had the misfortune to make accidental eye contact with a pissed tramp on a train station.
I wrote a letter with a mild-mannered critique of the Weekly Worker publishing policy and, suddenly, on Freeman’s fantasy island this means I am somehow in league with Tom Watson (!) on Brexit or whatever. Freeman says: “Brian is an ultra-remainer and is irritated by the case made for Corbyn’s ‘remain’-democrat stance” (Letters, July 18). Certainly news to me. I don’t have strong feelings either way on Brexit. Both sides bore me and don’t interest me remotely. As for Corbyn’s “‘remain’-democrat stance”, first, I didn’t know Corbyn had one; second, I don’t know what it is; and, third, I don’t care.
I am accused of having a “Stalinist method”. It’s very interesting that hostility to Rex Dunn is somehow a working definition of Stalinism. I can only say that it’s been a while since I thought about it, but I always classed myself as a Trot. As for being an “ultra-left”, given that this is worked out by Freeman on the basis of me having a novel standpoint that I didn’t know I actually had, we should maybe file that one under the heading ‘improbable’.
Freeman says he was “amused” by my little crack at him. Well, you don’t sound very amused, brother.
Brian Kugelmann complains that the Weekly Worker’s editorial policy is preoccupied with filling up space and not with the quality of articles and letters submitted to it (Letters, July 11). He imagines the paper’s editorial team “becoming excited over vast quantities of words arriving in their inbox”. He admonishes the editor for publishing writings that “wouldn’t be indulged by any serious journal”.
This is an unreasonable criticism. The Weekly Worker is not an academic journal. It is a paper of a small leftwing group that encourages free expression over various aspects of socialist theory and practice. It is directed to class-conscious workers and Marxist intellectuals, not all of whom are employed as teachers or researchers in institutions of higher education. Its editor faces a difficult task: this is to negotiate a path between, on the one hand, the anti-intellectual prejudices of a Stalinised left and, on the other, a scholastic snobbery directed towards self-educated Marxists. In other words, the editor has to be constantly aware of the need to publish writings that help educate workers in Marxist theory and help create a mass awareness of the need for a socialist society in the here and now.
Kugelmann must know that Stalinism almost completely destroyed Marxism and the movement for socialism. As a result there is presently no substantial leftwing mass movement worldwide. The Weekly Worker exists as part of the process of renewing and rebuilding this movement. It is therefore bound to reproduce some of the contradictions of the post-Stalinist period we are living through. These include the recognition that the objective material conditions for socialism are in place, but do not yet include a mass subjective awareness of this fact. On the contrary, most people are desperate and hopeless when they think about the future. Writers such as Rex Dunn face this contradiction honestly and squarely. I do not agree with his position of “rational pessimism”, but I recognise that his writings reflect ideas that many Marxists influenced by the Frankfurt school have adopted.
Kugelmann isolates the distinctive voices of Dunn and Steve Freeman for opprobrium. These voices may be eclectic in derivation and clumsy in expression. They may irritate, annoy or offend, but they deserve some form of critical engagement. On the contrary, Kugelmann’s splenetic dismissal condemns them as rubbish. Of course, when prejudice occludes reason, the same could be said of other “cranks” who write regularly for the paper, such as Mike Macnair and Jack Conrad.
Paul B Smith
Youth and unions
Inspired by the letter about turning to the youth, I share here something I wrote for a trade union paper.
We know that young people are much less active in the trade unions than they have been ever before. This means great losses for the workers’ movement in general, the coming generations become more and more atomised, while they aren’t developing any experience of organising. Without organisation the employers will be able to trample on the young working class without any resistance.
It is, of course, no coincidence that the current situation is the way it is: it is a structural problem. Young people only get temporary or unstable employment at a much higher rate. They go from workplace to workplace: they do not get the time to become part of the ‘community’ between workmates and they would never have the time to try and start any sort of workplace organising. The repressive discipline is getting harsher and harsher, the fear of getting let go if they raise their voice is very real. This is a structural problem that can only be solved on a political level, but that is no reason to give up on the local work that can be done.
Even if the youths have to go from workplace to workplace, they are workers nonetheless, wherever they go. They will always stand under their employer alongside their workmates. For this reason trade union activists need to interact with summer workers, those hired in through a staffing agency and so on. We have to make them feel like they are part of the workers’ collective, even if they can’t be part of the trade union club in the same way. We must make them feel we are on their side, no matter what, and this has to happen in a methodical way.
If we forget about the youth that is struggling with new conditions, then we are throwing the trade union promise into the dustbin of history.
The election of Boris Johnson as prime minister marks a time to reflect on the dangers the working class movement now faces. Johnson can win as long as he avoids imposing a no-deal Brexit and avoids a general election before the UK leaves the European Union on October 31. After the deal is ratified by the Commons, Johnson will use this patriotic kudos to call and win a general election.
Labour has recently made a big tactical blunder that will help Johnson secure a Tory Brexit. Labour had won a series of victories over May’s Tory Brexit, which led to her sacking. After 2016 Labour became a ‘remain-democrat’ party signalled by Corbyn agreeing to trigger article 50. This policy was then set out in the 2017 Labour manifesto and at the 2018 Labour conference.
In 2016 the democratic centre ground shifted, as millions of people voted to leave the EU in England and Wales and to remain in Northern Ireland and Scotland. Nobody voted to leave the single market and the customs union. Of course, any deal negotiated with the EU must be referred back to the people for ratification. Labour’s policy was very close to occupying this centre ground. It enabled the Parliamentary Labour Party to remain sufficiently united to defeat May’s deal three times in the Commons.
Now Labour has abandoned the centre ground and swung to the left to become a ‘remain and reform’ party to fight it out with the Liberal Democrats. It is a crackpot idea pushed onto Corbyn by Blair, Campbell and Wes Streeting, and fronted by arch witch-finder Tom Watson. Corbyn could have fended them off until Thornberry, McDonnell, Abbott and other left MPs like Clive Lewis backed a ‘remain’ referendum.
This has created a Labour shambles, not least because ‘remaining’ is in contradiction to calling a general election, so that a Labour government can go back to Brussels for another deal. But, more than this, it has released around 29 Labour MP’s who had been shackled by the promise to respect the referendum result. This enabled a Tory Brexit to be blocked by Labour MPs who supported both ‘leave’ and ‘remain’.
Now the new PM is a man with a plan. He is going to get a Tory Brexit through the Commons and then fight a general election. How can he pull it off? He is threatening no deal as a negotiating tactic, but in practice he will seek to come back with a disguised version of the May deal. The Tories will see through this disguise, but pretend not to notice.
Fear stalks the Tory Party. Vote for the Johnson deal or hand the keys to number 10 to the extreme ‘Marxist’, Jeremy Corbyn. At the same time 29 Labour MPs - released from their obligations by Labour’s switch to an ultra-‘remain’ party - will back the Johnson deal and get it over the line. Peter Mandelson and his mouthpiece, Tom Watson, will have delivered a win-double - helping the Tories to secure a majority in the Commons and win a victory over Corbyn in the general election.
We can only guess how Johnson will get his revised May deal. The most straightforward is to draw the economic border with the EU down the Irish Sea and do the checks in Liverpool, etc. There is then no need for an Irish backstop. Of course, for that Johnson will have to throw the Democratic Unionist Party under the bus. Yet the Tory rank and file have already said they would happily lose Ireland, if only they could get Brexit and defeat Corbyn.
This is not to say that Johnson is brave enough to sacrifice Irish unionism, which is so essential for Tory politics. Perhaps they will come up with something more complex to save the Tories from a terminal crisis. The main point is that Watson’s ultra-‘remain’ victory was a setback for Labour and may be the point when Corbyn was finally scuppered by a fatal combination of his enemies and his allies.
Iran not afraid
The US had already decided to send troops (and the Patriot missile system) to its base in Saudi Arabia before Iran seized the British tanker, Stena Impero, in the Strait of Hormuz on July 19. Since the UK stopped the Iranian-flagged Grace 1 in Gibraltar on July 4 - and the US claims to have downed an Iranian drone on July 18 - Iran is defending itself. Even the British media tend to accept this.
It is the US administration that broke the Iran nuclear deal. And it is Iran that proposed to France and Germany - and even the UK - that they keep the deal alive. The latter are gradually taking the side of the US, of course, through their common class interests. The Trump government wants to keep Iran in awe of its imperialist plans in the Middle East, but Iran is not afraid and it fights back instead. Like Venezuela, Syria and Libya, it is a revolutionary state.
As in the cases of Venezuela and Syria, the imperialists find themselves confronted with Russia and China. Regime change ‘in slices’ becomes difficult for the imperialists - if not impossible. As for Russia and China, beyond their very great internal shortcomings, they act on the world’s stage in a way that helps ex-colonial countries defy, resist and unite against any return to colonial subjugation and pillage.
Through their incapacity to plan, their repeated failures and their procrastinations, Trump and the imperialists show that they are afraid. It is not for lack of military strength that they fail in Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya, Syria, Iran, Ukraine: there is just no capitalist development to be had for them in the world.
It is the Soviet workers’ state that defeated Nazism and not ‘the allies’. It was the triumph of the Soviet Union that created the conditions for most of the colonies to become independent. For imperialism to return to the pillaging of the world, it must now defeat Russia and China.
By its behaviour, Iran shows that it is not afraid. It is imperialism that is afraid. It wants world war against Russia and China, but it keeps putting it off, putting if off. It is afraid of what it is, and of what it does, as a system.
Wracked by internal competition and the hatred of the world’s masses, world capitalism keeps stoking the fires of war instead of taking bold, planned and confident control of an all-out war. And, when it finally decides to do so, it will be another fiasco, like all its wars, and for the same reasons.
The left in the Labour Party needs to assimilate the fact that, when the workers’ state of the Soviet Union smashed the Nazis, it drew a historic line under the colonial ambition of world capitalism. In this action carried out by its Red Army, its entirely mobilised masses and its 27 million dead, the Soviet workers’ state broke the foundations of colonisation - hence of capital accumulation.
John Smithee hits it right on the button by saying an influx of young people offers the best hope for Labour Party Marxists/CPGB, along with “communism in 2019” (Letters, July 18). In other words, the best hope for a reversal of 21st-century Marxism’s extensive, fundamental and thus profound difficulties. However, it’s far easier said than done to attract that next and effective generation to our cause. For its part, modern-day capitalism is highly adept at making a society based upon a blend of ignorance, instant gratification and self-interest appear to be something wonderful.
In reality, of course, any variation of social structure on offer from capitalism will be one predominantly based upon toxic individualism and, in turn, upon multi-modal exploitation. Seemingly satisfying and fulfilling, but, in fact, entirely dead-end; certainly if compared to what could be achievable for humankind if life were to be imbued with ideas, ideals and aspirations rooted within mutual benefit and the common good.
The vacuousness, inanity and nihilism of so-called choices in lifestyle under capitalism; the sheer and beyond tragic waste of youthful enterprise and energy would be brought to an end. Marxism would replace them instead with genuinely satisfying rewards - indeed, an ability to appreciate true ‘freedom of expression’. That in stark distinction to lifestyles under capitalism - those churned out by Hollywood/Netflix and other forms of corporate media as are intertwined with calculated distraction and disinformation. For the non-affluent or worse educated - for disadvantaged and consequently even more disoriented working class youth - that conditions their mind, limiting their ambition to include such nonsense as ‘postcode’ gangland stabbings or shootings, for the most part in pursuit of establishing a feeling of worth, an identity.
In contrast, communism/Marxism would provide the fertile soil not only for higher-form aesthetics, but also for real fun, true success, for genuine fulfilment; they would provide the ‘happiness’ that is either elusive or totally absent under capitalism.