Labour Party members have staged an extraordinary online picket of a shadow minister to protest an alleged purge in the party.
During an online Labour Party meeting shadow minister Andy McDonald was unexpectedly bombarded with questions about the suspension of hundreds of members since Keir Starmer became leader. McDonald, shadow minister for employment, refused to answer the questions and one questioner, Norman Thomas, was ejected from the meeting, which was about protecting rights at work. “We have been driven to take this action by the outrageous injustices which are happening under the leadership of Keir Starmer. We are fighting for free speech and democracy in our party,” Thomas (himself a suspended member) said.
At the meeting Thomas asked McDonald if he supported the rights of “hundreds of ordinary members who had been suspended and expelled since Starmer became leader”. Another picket said members were being suspended for debating motions and asked if they shouldn’t take collective action. But the shadow minister ignored all questions put to him and Thomas was ejected. He said: “I could see the shadow minister reading our questions, but he didn’t respond. My last question was: ‘Why won’t you answer these questions?’ Then they kicked me out of meeting.”
Until December of last year Thomas was chair of South Thanet Labour Party. He was suspended, like many other local officers, for allowing his members to debate a motion supporting former leader Jeremy Corbyn. He says he was shocked by the way he was treated at the online meeting and denies his questions were irrelevant: “The meeting was about protecting rights at work, I was putting valid questions about the rights of people who put in hours of voluntary work for the party - people who are being suspended or expelled for no good reason. The shadow minister wouldn’t even do me the courtesy of a reply. I was shocked by the way I was treated.”
On Saturday February 27 at 11am LIEN will hold its founding conference, where it will discuss its future actions.
Labour In Exile Network
Don’t be silent
John Lennon once said something along the lines that life is what happens while you’re busy making plans. Historical turning points often happen while most people are busy getting on with everyday life. It is only in retrospect that the great mass of people realise that they have lived through them. We are presently passing through what could be a turning point in the history of the labour movement in Britain.
The removal of the old clause four from the rulebook of the Labour Party was an historical turning point. It signalled the adoption of neoliberalism. Blair’s ‘New Labour’ was committed to deregulation and privatisation. Blair’s government was “intensely relaxed” about people becoming filthy rich. Social trends begun under Thatcher continued, as the gap between rich and poor widened, the proportion of workers in precarious employment increased and the working class became more atomised. It was this line of march that led to a foreign policy that enabled the growth of some of the most reactionary forces in the world.
The suspension of Jeremy Corbyn from the Parliamentary Labour Party could be an historical turning point. If the whip is restored to Corbyn, there would not be a great swing to the left in the Labour Party: the left would still be on the back foot. However, if Starmer succeeds in permanently excluding Corbyn, then the Labour Party would be finished as a vehicle for substantial social change for a generation. It would be a massive blow to the morale of the left, and more and more people would drop out of active politics. Tens of thousands of members have already resigned from Labour since Starmer became leader.
It may well be that Jeremy Corbyn wins his court case. I don’t think that this would be a good outcome. I would be pleased that he had won, but I would be far, far happier if he was reinstated as a result of pressure exerted by members of Constituency Labour Parties and affiliated trades unions. Can we really be happy about the internal affairs of our party being decided by the state? Would we really want a (metaphorical) police officer attending every meeting to ensure that the rulebook is observed? If we are so weak in numbers or in spirit that Corbyn can only be reinstated on the instructions of a judge, then we will have lost.
We are not weak in numbers. The problem that besets us - the left in the Labour Party across Britain - is weakness of spirit. We are too frightened of what may happen to us if we speak out. That we have roads in Harlow named after Nelson Mandela and Salvador Allende is a reminder that in some parts of the world in certain periods our comrades have faced imprisonment, torture and execution.
What is the worse thing that could happen to a CLP officer if he or she spoke out in support of Jeremy Corbyn? Suspension from the Labour Party is a lot less dangerous to your health than suspension from a gallows. There is nothing to stop Labour councillors speaking out in defence of Corbyn; there is no rule under which they could be disciplined for doing so.
In future decades, when people ask us what we did to support our brother, Jeremy Corbyn, in his hour of need, will we be able to say honestly and unashamedly that we spoke out in his support? Or will we have to shamefacedly admit that we kept quiet, while history turned to the right, and condemned yet another generation to suffer the slings and arrows of unconstrained capitalism?
Tony Greenstein and others certainly put the cat amongst the pigeons at the launch of the Labour Campaign for Free Speech on February 13. There are two parts to the argument. The first is that the right to free speech does not include the right to shout ‘fire’ in a crowded theatre; and the second is the duty of Marxists to physically no-platform fascists.
Four pages of dense text from James Harvey and Jack Conrad seek to demolish this principled stance (‘End the contradiction’ and ‘We light fires’, February 18). But Greenstein’s motion of no platform for fascists won by a far larger majority than the CPGB’s libertarian approach to free speech and fascism. Harvey ridiculously seeks a tour de force by accusing those who took the Marxist position:
“In defining fascism as an ever-present, existential threat and thus elevating ‘no platforming’ to a principle, fascism and Nazism were de-historicised and de-contextualised. The result was that the real counterrevolutionary nature of fascism and its relationship with capitalism are ignored. Thus, for these comrades, ‘no platforming’ becomes a moral stance directed against an eternal evil rather than a reactionary movement to be confronted and defeated politically by the organised working class ... However, our focus must remain on politically combating fascism and other reactionary movements by convincing their supporters, to use Trotsky’s words, and winning them over to a real alternative to capitalist reaction”, Harvey assures us (emphasis in the original text).
Here we see the essential failure to understand fascism. It cannot be defeated simply by political persuasion. Fascism’s central aim is to eliminate by force the organisations of the working class, its trade unions, its political parties, right, left and centre, and, of course, its revolutionary and centrist (in Marxist terms) leadership, in order to restore capitalism’s rate of profit. Victories in violent confrontation encourage the declassed petty bourgeoisie and lumpen workers whom we saw on Capitol Hill on January 6. Trump’s defence in encouraging and directing the coup attempt was his right to free speech.
And then Jack Conrad, in a turgid piece of irrelevant historical assertions, seeks to prove that it’s OK to shout fire in a crowded theatre because of the historical context in which the Supreme Court delivered the judgement. Defending Trump’s defence? The other confusion is that the Marxist principle of no-platforming is a demand on the state to ban fascist parties. It is not: of course we do not demand the state ban fascist marches and parties, because we know that such legislation is used overwhelmingly against the left and organised working class. The demand is to organise to physically confront the fascists, to deny them the streets and public platforms, because fascists are qualitatively different from all other forms of reaction, as we have explained above.
That Trotsky was willing to appear before the House Committee on Un-American Activities does not prove that he was for unalloyed free speech or soft on the capitalist state - his entire history of revolutionary activism gives the lie to that suggestion. I shared a platform with a National Front fascist during a hustings for the 1979 general election, which included the Tory and Labour candidates. It would have been a foolish ultra-leftism to refuse.
The ‘great Marxist’, Joe Stalin, had a similar notion when he persuaded the German Communist Party that the Nazis were no danger whatsoever, and they inanely parroted ‘After the Nazis, us’, when Hitler came to power in January 1933. The main enemies were the German Social Democrats and the ‘Trotsky fascists’, Uncle Joe had convinced them. They kept saying it for six whole weeks - until Hitler rounded them all up and sent them to the concentration camps. On December 8 1931 Trotsky had tried to warn them what was coming in ‘For a workers’ united front against fascism’, which clearly does not rely solely on persuasion:
“Worker-communists, you are hundreds of thousands, millions; you cannot leave for any place; there are not enough passports for you. Should fascism come to power, it will ride over your skulls and spines like a terrific tank. Your salvation lies in merciless struggle. And only a fighting unity with the Social Democratic workers can bring victory. Make haste, worker-communists: you have very little time left!”
The launch of the Labour Campaign for Free Speech on February 13, as reported in the Weekly Worker, may prove significant and timely. The conference, with three hundred participants, identified three major issues - the use of smears of anti-Semitism to silence critics of Israel; the imprisonment of Julian Assange to intimidate journalists who expose criminal acts and human rights violations; and the defence of a democratic culture of open debate in the labour movement.
The following resolution was passed demanding freedom for Assange with overwhelming support.
“1. This conference recognises that Wikileaks exposed secret communications and war crimes committed by the US and as a consequence Julian Assange is held as a political prisoner of the UK state. We recognise his treatment is a threat to the freedom of the press and right of citizens to know what is being carried out by the state.
“2. This conference opposes his extradition to the United States, condemns his cruel treatment in prison and calls for his immediate release from jail.
“3. This conference supports the campaign to Free Julian Assange. We urge all participants to raise the demand for his immediate release in Labour Party meetings, trade union branches and community organisation and, where possible, to link it with the issue of defence of free speech.”
I proposed this motion with Matthew Jones from Scotland. We stepped aside to enable Deepa Driver - a member of the University and College Union executive, chair of Camden Momentum and a legal observer at the Assange trial - to move the motion. The attacks on free speech have led to Labour Party members losing their party membership and to some losing their employment. However, important though these examples are, the most important cases are journalists losing their lives and/or being locked up by dictators or by so-called ‘democracies’.
Chelsea Manning, like Assange, has lost her liberty and must be freed immediately. But the socialist movement in the UK has concentrated on the most important political prisoner held in isolation in ‘our’ high security jail at Her Majesty’s pleasure. Socialists have to convince the working class movement to demand his immediate release from jail and organise protest actions.
In exposing US state secrets, Assange has committed no crime that any democrat recognises. He has acted on our behalf by exposing the information we need as citizens. This case shows the true nature of the British crown, which supports illegal covert action and masquerades behind a thin veneer of liberal values. Assange is being treated cruelly and inhumanly - he is a political prisoner and therefore cannot get a fair trial. The verdict was already decided by Trump and confirmed by Biden.
The new Labour campaign will take up free speech in the Labour Party, but it will have to prove its worth by mobilising the working class to demand Assange’s immediate release from jail. Securing his freedom will be a major victory for the working class in the struggle for freedom of information, free speech and the freedom to publish the truth.
Just a prop
Jim Creegan points out that Daniel Lazare constantly refers in his articles to the US constitution and other artefacts of US rule (‘Drivers that led to January 6’, February 18). Jim also points out, correctly, that all that he writes on this is true, but …
I would agree. Lazare’s critiques of the constitution and other items - the Senate, etc - are true, and important. They were established by a slave-owning and very class-conscious bourgeoisie and were meant by the founders to be eternal. The constitution is, I would suggest, a prop, in both senses of the word. It is a means of support to a decaying structure, and an item of stage furniture to keep an audience enthralled: “O say can you see …”, hand springs to heart - mind you don’t scratch your finger on your lapel badge.
Ulster will fight and Ulster will be right. This was the rallying war cry of political unionism and its armed supporters in loyalist paramilitaries during the partition of Ireland in the early 20th century.
There have been many similar invocations of this settler-colonial mindset throughout Irish history, together with a veto on progress within Irish society and around Irish reunification. There were blood-curdling war cries of ‘No surrender’, ‘No Lundy traitors’, ‘No sell-outs’, ‘No Anglo-Irish agreement’ (1985), ‘No Good Friday agreement’ (1998) and most recently ‘No border in the Irish Sea’.
Things have changed forever with the vote to leave the EU. This necessitated customs checks between Britain and the European Union, which are having an effect upon the political processes within Northern Ireland and the island of Ireland. In order to protect peace and stability, no physical border on the island of Ireland can be justified. It might renew militant republican hostility against the continued colonial occupation, of which militarised border posts would be a physical reminder. Any customs border would be at British ports. The border would not be on the island of Ireland, but in the Irish Sea between Britain and Ireland.
Northern Ireland is in a unique position. It is still an integral member of the European customs union and single market, and it is also an integral member of the United Kingdom’s internal domestic market. That leaves it in an enviable position, providing business opportunities to both the EU and Great Britain. But neither unionism politically nor loyalism militarily are concerned about the opportunities for business and the economy to grow exponentially in the North of Ireland. In the midst of a worldwide pandemic, they see no advantages to the current situation and indeed they insist on renewing the physical border between northern and southern Ireland, with all the inherent potential to destabilise the Good Friday agreement this would entail.