WeeklyWorker

26.11.2020
That was then, but now he would be branded an anti-Semite

Not giving any concessions

Clive Dean of Labour Party Marxists calls for more considered debate and no more sloppy formulations

Given the latest round of Labour’s civil war, it was no surprise that over 100 members logged on to Zoom for the Labour Against the Witchhunt members’ meeting last weekend.

Things began with a political introduction provided by Tony Greenstein, who explained how Jeremy Corbyn had to be removed as party leader because his anti-war politics were unacceptable to the United States. Tony was surprised that Corbyn and the official left in the party had bought into the ‘Labour has a problem with anti-Semitism’ narrative. That despite the big lie being promoted by the right - not to mention the mainstream media and the Board of Deputies, which has never been interested in tackling racism. He noted Momentum’s response to Corbyn’s suspension, following the publication of the Equality and Human Rights Commission report, first warning Keir Starmer that he was in danger of “politicising the fight against anti-Semitism”. Then claiming that Corbyn’s suspension undermines the “fight against anti-Semitism”.

Comrade Greenstein thought that much of the left failed to understand Starmer’s agenda, and actually believed his election pitch of being a unity candidate who would honour the policies contained in the 2019 manifesto. In realty he is thoroughly reactionary. His career as Director of Public Prosecutions is peppered with attacks on the working class and since becoming leader he has consistently attacked the left in the party. Comrade Greenstein noted how Starmer and his new general secretary, David Evans, have blocked discussion within the party of any of their actions, using the “not competent business” designation. But he was impressed by the groundswell of party organisations willing to ignore these edicts and pass motions defending Corbyn.

This opening led into the main item on the agenda, which was a motion submitted by Labour Party Marxists, entitled ‘Defend Corbyn, reject EHRC’. This linked the suspension of Corbyn to the suspensions and expulsions of hundreds of other victims of the witch-hunt over the last five years, and includes the demand: “Reinstate Corbyn as a Labour MP, reinstate all victims of the witch-hunt to Labour membership.”

The motion is unequivocal in its rejection of the EHRC report, especially the notion that Labour’s disciplinary processes should be outsourced. It recognises the EHRC as an arm of the British state, its intervention in the Labour Party being designed to “attack the Corbyn leadership, delegitimise any criticism of Zionism and create a situation where the left is either tamed, domesticated or driven out of the Labour Party”.

It also damns the response of the official Labour left, labelling it “unprincipled, cowardly and self-defeating”. In particular the Socialist Campaign Group of MPs is condemned for its weak opposition to Corbyn’s suspension. It ends by rejecting the politics of appeasement and the pathetic pleas for unity with the right.

Kevin Bean introduced the motion by referencing his own experience as one of the ‘Wavertree Four’ - officers of Liverpool Wavertree Constituency Labour Party, who were suspended for criticising their MP, Paula Barker. These suspensions were initiated by members who previously claimed to be on the left. Similarly so-called lefts have been behind attempts to stifle opposition to Corbyn’s suspension by preventing meetings and ruling motions out of order. This is the logic of appeasement - refusing to stand up and fight leads to further self-censorship and compliance with the drift to the right.

Comrade Bean drew attention to the danger of model motions being circulated that accept the legitimacy of the EHRC report. They claim the report identifies weaknesses and even makes useful suggestions. However, implementing this report will result in Labour’s disciplinary mechanism being taken over by our political opponents - possibly including Zionist organisations like the Board of Deputies.

Debate

In the debate John Bridge of LPM urged LAW to be firm in rejecting the EHRC report, together with the International Holocaust Remembrance Association’s ‘definition’ of anti-Semitism and the idea that Labour is teeming with anti-Semites. He accused the leaders of the official left like Jeremy Corbyn and Jennie Formby of being responsible for introducing the charge of ‘denialism’. This is the classic feature of a witch-hunt - if you deny the problem exists, then you yourself are guilty.

He also offered an explanation for the failure of many in the Campaign Group of MPs to protest over Corbyn’s suspension: they are pursuing a career and do not want to harm their chances of becoming a future minister. Finally he suggested that those comrades leaving Labour in response to the poison of the witch-hunt will find there is no escape - the ‘Anti-Zionism equals anti-Semitism’ barrage will follow them, it is already affecting education, employment and local authorities.

Pam Bromley - who, along with Ken Livingstone, was named in the EHRC report as a source of “unlawful harassment” - described the ridiculous charges levelled against her. In fact she had already been cleared by the Labour Party, only for them to resurface when she spoke out against the suspension of Chris Williamson.

After the debate the meeting moved on to consider amendments, all being submitted on the day. The rush to get them in may be the reason behind some very clumsy wording. In the case of the two that were voted through, these politically awkward formulations have now been grafted onto the original text.

Comrade Tina Werkmann’s amendment was designed to include criticism of the new Momentum leadership, which has joined in with the chorus of the official left, pleading to be allowed to unite with Starmer to “root out anti-Semitism”. Unfortunately her choice of words also included some inaccurate phrases. First it claimed that unity of the left and right within Labour is unachievable. As comrade Bridge explained, the left and right wings of Labourism have always been joined together. There was never an issue, as long as the left remained subordinated to the right. The problem arose when Corbyn became leader - this was unacceptable to the right. Comrade Werkmann’s second error was to describe the left’s tailing of the right on ‘rooting out anti-Semitism’ as a tactic. This is untrue. The official left is imprisoned in a symbiotic dependency upon the Labour right - witness its support for the election of any Labour government, whatever its composition. Nevertheless, comrade Werkmann’s amendment was passed by 54 votes to 13.

Also passed was an amendment from comrade Tom Suarez. This replaced the simple proposition: “The idea that ‘Anti-Zionism equals anti-Semitism’ is a disgusting lie” with the unnecessarily complicated construct: “The idea that ‘Anti-Zionism equals anti-Semitism’ is far more than a cynical, manipulative lie - it is an inversion of the truth. Zionism is itself a racist ideology that inextricably ties Jewish identity to the actions of a nation-state.”

The motion, as amended, was carried overwhelming, with only two members voting against.1

Draft charter

The other significant item debated was a draft Charter for Free Speech,2 which has been prepared for an online conference LAW will be hosting on December 12.3 Clearly the ‘anti-Semitism’ smokescreen that has disarmed the left so well within Labour is now being rolled out into other areas of public life. Trade unions, local authorities, universities and humanitarian charities are among those bodies that are being coerced into adopting the IHRA misdefinition and dropping support for Palestine. The Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions campaign, which sheds light on Israel’s oppression of Palestinians, is being branded as anti-Semitic and even illegal.

Despite the draft charter being presented for discussion purposes only, several amendments were tabled. Comrade Greenstein pointed out that the Free Speech campaign is targeted at a broad section of progressive opinion, so it is inappropriate to reference the overthrow of capitalism in the charter.

Comrade Steve Burgess successfully moved replacing “so-called” with “fake” as the adjective describing the IHRA ‘definition’ of anti-Semitism. However, once again he sought approval for the alternative Merriam-Webster dictionary definition, and again this was rejected. LAW does not need a definition of anti-Semitism, and certainly should avoid being tied to a third-party dictionary - one that is subject to revision at any time.

As the meeting drew to a close, comrade Neil Todd raised the issue of legal action against the Labour Party. This would take up the cases of all those who have been expelled or suspended, and those who have resigned in disgust. The grounds would be that Labour’s disciplinary procedures are in breach of natural justice.

Although the item was referred back to LAW’s steering committee for consideration, comrades raised concerns about the costs of legal action. I would add that the courts are there to uphold the current political system, and so cannot be expected to side with the interests of the working class, no matter how strong a case LAW presents. We need to mobilise the membership to defeat the witch-hunt by political means.

In summary, the meeting highlighted again the problem of rushed amendments and rushed debates. Hopefully LAW will be able to suggest a fair timetable for submitting and debating amendments next time, so that bad formulations can be avoided.

However, by overwhelmingly rejecting the EHRC report, defending Corbyn against Starmer’s attacks and calling out the pathetic collaboration of the official left, LAW is providing a way forward for comrades to stay in Labour and fight for genuine working class politics. The painful lessons from the Corbyn project provide us with an understanding of the limits of Labourism and the need for Marxist ideas and Marxist organisation.


  1. labouragainstthewitchhunt.org/uncategorized/defend-corbyn-reject-ehrc.↩︎

  2. docs.google.com/document/d/1j1MJSK-ig69libd0H96UAnE3-HFjfxclly15EssKSWo.↩︎

  3. You can register to attend the conference at labouragainstthewitchhunt.org/events.↩︎