Free speech

The Labour Campaign for Free Speech has postponed its next meeting again, from April 24 to May 29, citing “diary clashes” - fair enough, if a little disappointing. Even more disappointing, I thought, was the agenda item (and I can no longer find the agenda on the website) on the discussion over a difference of opinion revealed at the opening conference in February.

This was regarding the ‘Charter for Free Speech’, item one. This reads, at the moment, in full:

“Without free speech and a free press there can be no democracy

“We stand for unrestricted freedom of speech and publication. Open debate and the right to question ideas, conventions, rules and laws are fundamental democratic rights. We oppose any form of blasphemy laws - religious or political. The concentration of media ownership in the hands of a few billionaire proprietors undermines free journalism. We support the development of an alternative and labour movement media not beholden to a handful of individuals. Free speech is not an absolute right. It does not include the right to ‘shout fire in a crowded theatre’ (Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, Schenck v United States [1919]). Free speech doesn’t, for example, include the right to incite racial hatred or advocate the harm of others because of their protected characteristics (race, disability, sexual orientation, gender, etc).”

On the face of it this may look pretty unexceptionable; after all, inciting racial hatred or advocating the harm of others is illegal anyway. But, in the discussion, from the start, it was clear that this was actually meant to be a motion against free speech - for fascists.

I found the agenda item disappointing, because it indicated that there were to be two opening contributions of 10 minutes each, followed by a mere 25 minutes of discussion - some of which, I assume, would include responses from the opening speakers. Previous to the expected meeting of April 24, I decided I’d get my thoughts together in case I got a chance to put in my two penn’orth. Clearly anyway it would be likely to be two minutes worth too, if I was lucky.

This discussion, I would have thought, was pretty foundational to a free speech campaign - worth a more lengthy debate surely. There are clearly major, and some heated, differences of opinion on the matter.

The ‘Charter for Free Speech’ has six items, as listed on the website. The first is for free speech and a free press and the second for an end to state and corporate secrecy. These two are presumably demands on the state, on the government. The third is against the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance definition and presumably addressed to the state, local government, educational establishments and, of course, the Labour Party.

We then have the call for free discussion and enquiry in universities, colleges and schools - demands again on the government plus educational authorities. Then freedom of speech and democracy in the Labour movement - aimed at unions and, not least, the Labour Party. At number six we have: “If free speech doesn’t include the right to offend, it is meaningless”, aimed at all of the above. All of the demands, as far as I can see, are demands on the government and others who claim authority over us - the Labour Party, universities and so on.

But then in number one we have the introduction of a caveat - why? On the face of it there is nothing extra or new said. For obvious and already legal limits on free speech - eg, to advocate harm - these two sentences seem entirely superfluous.

But that was not how it was presented in February, no: this is to curb the free speech of fascists! There were cries of “No pasarán” (from veterans of the Spanish civil war?) and demands that ‘If you cannot convince a fascist, acquaint his head with the pavement’. One might wonder if there are any fascists alive and out of hospital in some UK towns. I would suggest that this was posturing, not serious politics, and childishly annoying.

So who are these demands made on? Are we to ask the Johnson government to acquaint heads with pavements? Probably not, we are just demanding of him and other authorities that they put an end to the free speech of fascists. In the context of the charter and all the rest of the demands, what other interpretation can we put on it?

And suppose that he, and they, acquiesce to our demand: will fascists disappear? They might become invisible to all but a few cognoscenti (and the police, of course). They will be forced to burrow deeper underground on social media - something they seem to be adept at. But at least we won’t have to argue with them.

But what if the government goes further? Suppose they decide to take away free speech from extremists? Extremists like anti-Zionists - sorry, I mean anti-Semites. If we make this sort of demand on the powers-that-be, where will this creeping censorship end?

We can picket meetings, we can counter marches and protests, but, in the context of the charter, are we saying that fascists can’t meet and can’t march in demonstrations? By law?

So it seems, on the one hand, that we are making a series of valiant demands - for freedom! But, on the other hand, sorry, we just want to pull back a bit.

Jim Nelson

Not voting

I am a Labour Party member, but I will not be voting for the Labour candidates for Harlow district council, Essex county council and the police and fire commissioner on May 6. None of the candidates in my ward have publicly or privately expressed support for either the restoration of the whip to Jeremy Corbyn or the re-establishment of democracy and free speech within the party.

The statement made by Jeremy Corbyn in response to the report on anti-Semitism in the Labour Party was not anti-Semitic or Judeophobic. It was fair comment. However, I am not allowed to discuss this matter in meetings of my local Labour Party. I am not allowed to put a motion of no confidence in the general secretary to my local Labour Party. I am not even allowed to put a motion stating that the membership has the right to discuss possible violations of due process and/or legality by the party apparatus.

Labour denies its membership the right to legitimate free speech and democratic decision-making. It cannot claim to stand for these principles in the external world, when it opposes them internally. I would vote for Labour Party candidates for public office who explicitly defended these principles. None of the candidates in Harlow have done so.

I cannot endorse those who do not defend free speech and democracy in our party, and therefore I will be writing “Reinstate Jeremy Corbyn now!” on my ballot papers.

John Wake


Looking at the situation from the west coast of North America, I am puzzled by the failure of UK leftists to take the anti-racist fight to the defenders of apartheid Israel. I recall coming across a group called Lazir - Labour Against Zionist Islamophobic Racism - but I think that most of the anti-Zionist left was afraid to be associated with them!

By the way, I’m a person of Jewish ethnicity, but I don’t identify as a ‘Jew’, because that word has too much baggage.

Aaron Aarons

Defend China

Foppe de Haan is determined to press his point about alleged Uyghur oppression in Xinjiang. But after one article on the issue (‘Examining underlying issues’, April 1) and now a follow-up letter (April 22), his confusion only seems to be deepening.

De Haan says in his letter that “we should treat with due seriousness the fact that something is happening” in Xinjiang. I agree - except it’s unclear what that “something” is. While he criticises the Chinese Communist Party on a number of grounds, none of them quite adds up. He believes that the CCP’s “productivist” emphasis on “proletarianisation and productivity growth” has something to do with anti-Uyghur discrimination, yet since when have Marxists seen anything problematic about the efforts of a workers’ state to boost labour productivity?

He says that China represses minorities because it’s an “imperialist state”. Yet any real Marxist will take exception to such a description, since imperialism is exclusively a capitalist attribute. He accuses Beijing of “actively maintain[ing] cultural barriers and separation” that undermine Xinjiang’s Uyghur population, while complaining in the same breath that it has “tried to solve the so-called problem of ‘underdevelopment’ by encouraging and rewarding some 10 million Han Chinese to migrate there”. But migration is the opposite of separatism, since the effect is to bring different groups into contact with one another, so that they can’t help but communicate and exchange ideas.

Finally, de Haan blames government-sponsored Han migration for the rise of ethnic friction in Xinjiang. But this is misleading as well, since it assumes that mixing and mingling different ethnicities can only lead to trouble and strife, which is both pessimistic and reactionary.

The result is confusion on top of confusion. So let’s get a few things straight. To wit:

This is why I took umbrage with de Haan’s article in the first place - because it cited anti-Chinese propaganda that was absurd on its face and because it relied on discredited sources, such as the German ultra-rightist, Adrian Zenz. Even though Zenz is the man who single-handedly invented the anti-Chinese genocide campaign, de Haan holds out the possibility in his letter that his research may still prove “useful”, even though he’s “an ideologue who distorts his own findings”. Perhaps. But that means we should handle his findings with special care - something that de Haan has so far failed to do.

Summing up, it’s not Han migration that is causing discord in Xinjiang. Rather it’s Stalinism, nationalism, plus western intelligence agencies like the CIA and the National Endowment for Democracy that are trying to take advantage of the CCP’s political weakness in order to further the goal of dismembering the Chinese state.

Daniel Lazare
New York


After 18 years as an elected member of the legislative assembly for Northern Ireland, six years as leader of the Democratic Unionist Party and one year as joint first minister, Arlene Foster’s political future is now in question.

When 75% of the elected party members called for a vote of no confidence in her leadership, she resigned on April 28. The new leader of the party is to be elected in May and Foster’s position as first minister will finish in June, as we head towards the assembly summer recess. An opportunity will then exist for the new leader to enter into dialogue with Sinn Féin, which also holds the joint position of first minister, about how to proceed. That is, if the DUP decides to continue with its current role within assembly, which seems unclear.

There have been many scandals during the six years of Foster’s leadership of the DUP, but previously not one of them was enough to call her leadership into question. We had the renewable heating initiative (RHI), which was seen by many as a malfeasance in public office - or possibly corruption, when public subsidies of millions of pounds were given to private individuals and companies as part of a renewable energy programme. The social investment fund also saw millions of pounds go directly to community groups and individuals, who many felt were just conduits for money to enter into the republican and loyalist paramilitary and political grassroots. Jobs for the boys and girls to ‘help secure peace’ - by bribing paramilitaries?

More recently, Arlene Foster seemed to finally endorse the Irish Language Act. The DUP had for years refused to finance and subsidise an act that would allow the native indigenous language to hold the same position within society as that of the coloniser English language. This may have upset hard-line anti-Irish unionists both within and without the party.

When the DUP voted alongside the Conservative Party to endorse a Brexit strategy that would remove Great Britain and Northern Ireland from the European Union, some members said any deal was welcome that removed Britain and Northern Ireland in its entirety from the European Union. The result of the deal between Boris Johnson and the EU has ushered in the Northern Ireland protocol. This has placed customs checks for some goods between Britain and Northern Ireland in the Irish Sea (and not on the island of Ireland, which is seen as one integral body for customs purposes and still resides within the European Union single market as a special case).

As political unionism was unable to renegotiate the Northern Ireland protocol, they engaged with loyalist paramilitaries and their representatives. The result was violence on the streets of Belfast, Derry and Carrickfergus. Loyalism flexed its violent muscles against the state to try and force renegotiation of the Northern Ireland protocol - not politically, but through the violence of paramilitary thugs.

Just a few days ago Arlene Foster, against the wishes of many in her party, abstained on a vote in the assembly on a motion in connection with banning conversion therapy - used by some to try and convince members of the LGBTQ not to embrace their sexuality.

The DUP has been shedding votes to the more liberal unionist Alliance Party, and to the more extreme Traditional Ulster Voice. Her leadership, her decision-making and her role in leading the party was called into question. The Northern Ireland protocol was, without doubt, the genesis for her demise, as more rightwing members of the DUP seemed to be literally calling the shots.

On May 3, we will witness celebrations for some and the condemnation of others of 100 years of the state of Northern Ireland being in existence - a unionist state for a unionist people. Many within the Democratic Unionist Party want a return to the past. They want a return to unionist, loyalist, Protestant domination of society in the north of Ireland. This is no longer an option, as both demographics and times have changed and the DUP no longer holds the type of power within society that traditional unionism once had. If a misogynistic, hard-right, fully paid-up member of the Orange Order is elected to the position of leader of the Democratic Unionist Party, I believe that would be another nail in the coffin of reactionary unionism.

The DUP can only really exist to promote the union between Great Britain and Northern Ireland. With democratic change and a united Ireland drawing ever closer, the rationale for the existence of the DUP will soon fizzle out. Without the sectarian coat trilling, the sectarian sabre-rattling and a diminishing sectarian voter base, which has sustained the DUP from its inception 50 years ago, it will become marginalised on the periphery of politics - both regionally in the north and nationally on the island of Ireland.

I believe a more moderate unionism will come to the fore, as we slowly progress towards national reunification. The writing on the wall will be the new dispensation - a new Ireland with a new future for all!

Fra Hughes


I would like to tell you about my struggle against barbaric capitalism that took place in the Astrakhan refinery (AGPZ) on the Caspian Sea in Russia. It began in October 2019, when I called the federal Security Service (FSB) to warn of the catastrophic situation caused ruptures in the gas pipeline. These had occurred three times during 2019, but fortunately they did not lead to a serious problem.

The mixture of hydrogen, hydrogen sulfide and diesel can cause a violent and highly dangerous explosion - which eventually happened on August 5 2020, due to the rupture in the pipeline. The management tried to cover up this accident, but, thanks to a witness who filmed it and posted it on the internet, those responsible were sanctioned.

Realising after making this phone call that problems might arise in my professional environment as well as in my private life, I was forced to join the so-called independent trade union, Zaschita Truda (Protection of Labour) and the so-called opposition party, Spravedlivayia Rossiya, in order to get some kind of protection. The Astrakhan FSB assured me that I was safe, but the reality showed otherwise.

In August 2019 I failed the annual safety test at work, and as a result I was fired without any official notice, but until June 2020 I continued to work (without any salary and putting my life at risk). My complaints to the labour inspectorate, to the public prosecutor’s office in Astrakhan, the governor of the Astrakhan region, the Russian president’s office and the duma, as well as the Gazprom company, did not yield any result.

To this day I am banned from my workplace and have received no compensation. Both the company and the Raiffeisen bank have filed a complaint against me. Two comrades decided to support me, but they have been regularly targeted within the company as a result. In spite of all these difficulties, we do not give up and we will do all we can to get justice (up to the European court), not only to bring those responsible to justice, but to give a lead by example to the working class, which does not dare to stand up and fight against capitalism for the fear of the consequent repression.

I rely on your support.

Konstantine Zavaline
Zaschita Truda union


An array of guilty verdicts has been delivered upon George Floyd’s killer, Derek Chauvin. Meanwhile, ordinary football fans have won their ‘victory’ over plans to set up a ‘super greed’ superleague. And, on a slightly different slant, the American Humanist Society has withdrawn its longstanding award to Richard Dawkins because of observations he tweeted on ‘trans’ self-identification. A perfect confluence, surely, by way of exposing the type of deceptions and hypocrisies that capitalist society relies upon.

Nonetheless, for a vast majority, an overarching Zeitgeist has remained largely intact: still securing more traction in their mind than anything thrown up either in contradiction or outright challenge - including how apparent concessions made from time to time by capitalism (or from the other point of view, those notional ‘victories’ achieved) can equally perform a function as vehicles for even more complex control; everything is judiciously commandeered, neutered, twisted around - ending up merely as repositioning. In a phrase, the ‘sheepdogging continues’ from capitalism’s elites, with nothing whatsoever of substance changing - merely a duping being secured into false senses of ‘people’s power’, the ideas of ‘accountability’, ‘justice’, blah, blah.

The primary purpose of those various processes is to avoid any turn towards socialism/Marxism, or anything else of a genuinely radical nature, narratives of its capitalist paradigm being carefully dished out by way of disguise and distraction. In any case most workers are steered clear of independent thought into evermore encompassing quagmires of grateful dependence! The most urgent truths and meaningful realities of life are kept in much their same state of subservience to exploitation, to constant pressures towards degradation - quite simply, to keeping up with loan repayments for a decent roof overhead (maybe along with a bit of instantly accessible ‘entertainment’, courtesy of Netflix or some similar peddler of drugs).

Not only simple logic, but equally that exotic creature called wholeview organics (aka dialectical materialism) lead to this single conclusion: not until the working class forcefully organises against the rules of the game, designed, determined and imposed by capitalism, will its occupants be free to live life genuinely according to their own choosing - that’s to say, on a social and cultural pitch that will meet both essential needs and any wildest imaginable aspirations.

Bruno Kretzschmar

Unite election

On April 26 I attended the Labour Left Alliance Unite caucus hustings, organised by comrade Pam Bromley. All three Unite general secretary candidates (Howard Beckett, Steve Turner and Sharon Graham), were invited, but only one turned up - Howard Beckett. In his introduction, he talked about opposing the ‘fire and rehire’ tactics used by British Gas, argued for the union to be political and socialist, while not limiting itself to the workplace (a reference to Sharon Graham’s approach).

A series of questions were organised a few days before and put to Beckett. I used the opportunity to put forward I thought those most pertinent. The first question I put to him was about the witch-hunt on the left and the weaponisation of anti-Semitism. I also asked about the block vote and whether he supports open selection. I reminded him that in his introduction he talked about Unite needing to be political and socialist - could he account for the stitch-up vote at the 2018 Labour conference, which prevented the motion on open selection getting onto the conference floor?

Howard Beckett’s response to my question on the weaponisation of anti-Semitism was that he thought racism needed to be fought and we couldn’t do so effectively if anti-Semitism wasn’t fought too. He then said that he supports and defends those suspended on the left and believed Labour certainly doesn’t have 200,000 anti-Semites. The problem is that the aim of the accusations of anti-Semitism (mostly against the left in Labour) was to weaken the left. After all, the accusations were disproportionate to the actual level of anti-Semitism.

His response to open selection was that he supports it, but he said that it wasn’t Len McCluskey who called for a vote on the trigger ballots compromise: it was Jeremy Corbyn (oh well, that’s all right then!). He justified the block vote because it was about “backing Corbyn” - something the union promised to do. A non-sequitur excuse, in my opinion. Surely the best way for Corbyn to get the backing he needed would be to opt out of something that was not only a self-sabotaging mistake, but an undemocratic, unprincipled slap in the face to the 95% of CLPs that supported open selection.

Interestingly Beckett was asked about the high salary of the general secretary. His response was that, given the fact that he was well off, it wouldn’t look good to take a ‘worker’s wage’ and signal a lower wage for everyone else. Again, I don’t follow the logic. He also said that, given the raised threshold of branch endorsements, he didn’t think it was likely that rightwinger Gerard Coyne would get onto the ballot. Beckett then called out the rightwing press for the smears made against himself - he hadn’t received a penny from miners’ remunerations.

Disappointingly I was not able to respond to Beckett’s inadequate answers, because the meeting ended after only an hour, but he briefly summed up his position just before the end. As to who I’ll back for secretary, I’m not enthusiastic about voting for any of them. But, when it comes down to it, I’ll probably cast a very critical vote for Beckett.

Justin White