Cutting through the cant
Because there is so much confusion, because there are so many futile attempts to conciliate, it is all the more necessary to take a principled stand. Bob Davies reports on the motions, debates and decisions
The Labour Left Alliance organising group, consisting of delegates from local groups and affiliated organisations, met on November 14 in the aftermath of recent events: elections to Labour’s national executive committee, the EHRC report on ‘anti-Semitism’, Jeremy Corbyn’s suspension and the intensification of suspensions and expulsions under Starmer’s regime. Events which produced much confused debate, but enabled the Labour Party Marxists fraction to win most comrades to principled positions.
Despite failing to secure a seat on the NEC, the six LLA-backed candidates were correctly praised for how they conducted their election campaign: boldly, openly calling out the witch-hunt and the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s misdefinition of anti-Semitism, and fighting for the reinstatement of those unfairly suspended or expelled from the party. This contrasted with the Grassroots Voice candidates - backed by Momentum and the Campaign for Labour Party Democracy, the two dominant groups in the Centre-Left Grassroots Alliance - whose statements on the witch-hunt were noticeable by their complete absence. This does not bode well for the immediate future. Momentum may be claiming success in winning five out of the nine Constituency Labour Party seats, but the need for a principled, militant, left is now greater than ever.
Starmer now has a majority on the NEC, and he may be unable to resist the temptation to use his majority to rid himself of the left which makes Labour unacceptable for the capitalist class. Opposition voices and critical debate will certainly be stamped on. The LLA steering committee’s statement on the NEC election results spoke about the “hope” it had that the five elected GV candidates will now “start” to fight back against “the ongoing campaign to attack, smear and demoralise the left”.
A proposal from LLA secretary Tina Werkmann to add to LLA’s title a strapline, “Home for socialists inside and outside the Labour Party”, was rejected by 11 votes to eight as “a fudge which will make the LLA a diffuse and ineffective broad current”.
Then there was the important question of left unity in the party. Workers International Network delegate Roger Silverman presented a draft ‘Open letter to left organisations’, which appealed for “all left forces” to:
... put aside old frictions and grievances, and join together in a united front to press for certain elementary democratic goals, namely:
- the unconditional reinstatement of Jeremy Corbyn’s membership;
- an independent review of all suspensions and expulsions from the Labour Party conducted in the last five years;
- the right of Labour Party members, branches and CLPs to discuss all related matters.
In proposing his draft, the comrade described the current political situation within the ranks of the party as a “rerun” of Blairism: a “burlesque pantomime” was being performed at “breakneck speed” that the left urgently needed to address.
Calling the draft letter “a suicide note”, LPM delegate Andrew Kirkland proposed, and won, five amendments which extended the list of demands necessary to provide a principled basis for the left to fight back - demands which enhanced the letter’s appeal to the rebellious rank and file, rather than accommodating to the reluctance of the official left’s misleaders to fight the right.
Arguing against the demand for an “independent” review of ‘anti-Semitism’ cases, comrade Kirkland pointed out that a disciplinary process “independent” of the party was precisely what the EHRC report and the Zionist lobby wanted. “Those who promise to ‘implement in full’ the recommendations are busy now formulating the new ‘independent’ anti-Semitism disciplinary process ... outsourced to the Jewish Labour Movement or the Campaign Against Anti-Semitism”, he stated. Such a review would be far from fair and would certainly not ensure justice to all those falsely charged with anti-Semitism.
The comrade then proposed deletion of the sentence that called on the left to “put aside old frictions and grievances”, and spoke of the necessity for vigorous debate to achieve principled left unity. Given Starmer’s use of the EHRC report to curtail free speech within the party, the comrade then proposed that rejection of the report in its entirety be added to the letter’s bullet points. As other comrades from LPM argued, how can this not be considered an “immediate” necessity for building principled unity?
Comrade Kirkland concluded by proposing two more bullet points: “open selections for all Labour Party public-office holders”; and “a new clause four that re-establishes a commitment to socialism”. All of these amendments were voted through, against some dogged resistance. The main argument being that these extra demands are unacceptable to Momentum’s leadership and the so-called centre-left. Certainly true, but so what?
It has to be said that the procedures by which debate was conducted were, at times, chaotic to the point of being undemocratic - already agreed amendments being revisited after the vote, for example. Comrade Kirkland’s amendment added the bullet point that “all suspensions and expulsions processed during the last five years be overturned pending an unbiased re-examination” (my emphasis). After this amendment was voted on and carried, a wrecking amendment from Bristol delegate Phil Pope was allowed, so that the issue was debated again, and the open letter was gutted of the militant demand to “overturn” all the suspensions and expulsions of the witch-hunt. Instead, the victims are to be left in limbo, except for those who appeal, who must be “heard in an unbiased and democratic manner”. Some hope! If the left is too weak-kneed to even demand that the expulsions of the witch-hunt be overturned, then the rule of the right will not be overturned either, and “unbiased and democratic” appeal hearings will remain a pious dream.
A second example: comrade Kirkland’s proposed straightforward bullet point, “Rejection of the EHRC report”, was firstly adopted by 10 votes to nine, but then mutilated by the addition of a totally inadequate ‘explanation’ of the reasons for rejection. The insertion was readily accepted by comrade Silverman and incorporated into the letter without debate and without a vote. The well-meaning, but naive and inadequate explanation - adding the words, “on the basis that it is biased and largely unfounded in its conclusions” - inadvertently legitimises the EHRC’s interference, omitting to point out that it is an instrument of the state led by Tories, doing its dirty work for the capitalist class.
The first of two LPM motions was moved by Merseyside delegate Kevin Bean, committing the LLA to the rejection of the EHRC report, including all of its findings and recommendations. It also went some way towards putting right the position formulated in the open letter, noting that the report’s recommendations included the totally unacceptable outsourcing of disciplinary processes. A second attempt, by Rotherham delegate Dan Platts, to narrow the reasons for opposing the EHRC report, failed by six votes to nine. For comrade Platts, the EHRC report should be rejected “on the basis that it doesn’t even consider the definition of anti-Semitism, or the evidence that shows the scale of the issue in the party is relatively small compared to wider society and other political parties”.
All true, of course, but inadequate as the reason to reject the report. As comrade Platts well knows, the witch-hunt in the Labour Party is not really about anti-Semitism. It is about neutering the socialist, anti‑capitalist, anti‑imperialist, anti‑war, pro‑Palestinian Labour left. Any weapon will do, but the right’s favourite, because it has proved so effective, is the ‘Anti‑Zionism equals anti‑Semitism’ campaign.
Three amendments were proposed: the two others were carried. Firstly, LPM delegate Stan Keable accepted an amendment by comrade Roger Silverman - that the Starmer leadership had “shown” rather than “openly declared” that it “wanted to complete the Blairite project”.
Secondly, although LPM argued against it, an amendment by comrade Phil Pope was carried, by 12 votes to seven, to replace the word “cowardly” - referring to the failed appeasement strategy of the Corbyn leadership - by “mistaken”. The LPM motion stated:
We recognise that the ground for these current attacks [by Starmer’s regime] was laid by the actions of the Corbyn leadership in colluding with the witch-hunting of comrades such as Jackie Walker, Tony Greenstein, Marc Wadsworth, Chris Williamson and Ken Livingstone. The attempts by that leadership to appease the right by sacrificing comrades on the left was both cowardly and ultimately futile.
Now, unfortunately, the LLA’s official position is that sacrificing comrades on the left, in the supposed interests of left-right party unity, is merely a “mistaken” strategy - a position that LPM will strive to correct. Nevertheless the LPM fraction supported the substantive motion, which was carried by 16 votes to one.
The second LPM motion, this time moved by comrade Keable, was carried, unamended, by 10 votes to eight, committing the LLA to hold its next conference online before the end of January, to discuss “the future of the Labour left” under the title “Is Labour dead?”
Conference debates, he argued, must be structured, so that the theme is not drowned in discussions about other issues. The different political tendencies which exist within the LLA must be able to present their views on the party and its place in the struggle to replace capitalism with socialism, so as to save humanity from the twin threats of nuclear war and climate catastrophe. Given the demoralisation of many in the party and the fact that large numbers have already left, clarifying LLA’s attitude to Labour is an urgent matter. The comrade argued that different fractions, groups and tendencies should be given sufficient time and space to present and defend their ideas.
No amendments were presented, but comrades Matthew Jones (Glasgow), Alec Price (Kent) and Roy Westbourne (Newham) spoke against, saying that a wider remit was needed to avoid the LLA “talking to ourselves.” Apparently, no possible conclusions about Starmer and the effects of his leadership could be made by January. But our motion was carried by 10 votes to eight.