WeeklyWorker

Letters

Fairyland

The October 14 joint meeting of members and supporters of Labour Against the Witchhunt, the Labour Left Alliance and the Labour In Exile Network highlighted the confusion and desperation that exists in this corner of the left.

The meeting was called to endorse the plan for closer cooperation between the three groups, with the suggestion of a weekly meeting for their combined steering committees. There was some debate about a suggested goal of full fusion, though the technical and political obstacles raised in contributions meant that the emphasis in the short term will be on ‘pooling our resources’ and the ‘cross-fertilisation of ideas’.

Real differences emerged over the question of the future orientation to the Labour Party. All three organisations were established on the assumption that the class struggle was taking place within Labour. Yes, expellees were welcome, but the objective was to get them back in to resume the battle in support of the Labour left. But now the heightened purge under Starmer has changed all that - what about those who are unable stomach the hostile environment for lefties in the Labour Party, and who have jumped ship or are about to do so?

Speakers fell into two opposing camps. The motion was moved by Tina Werkman, who argued to keep the current orientation centred on the Labour Party. But her reasoning seemed to be based purely on the trade unions and electoralism - the current voting system disenfranchises smaller parties - rather than any strategic goal of transforming Labour into a weapon for winning socialism.

Countering this were a number of amendments, whose movers were of the opinion that the Labour Party was now a lost cause, and the emphasis should be on bringing forth a new formation. Prominent in supporting this view were Tony Greenstein and Roger Silverman. Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership victory resulted in hundreds of thousands of new members joining Labour, but now that cohort has fissured, went the arguments. Up to half have already left or been excluded, while the remainder are constrained by the new regime. We were told that what is needed is an organisational form that unites both groups, thereby empowering those remaining inside, while cohering those outside, and avoiding any dispersal of disillusionment. This in itself is the politics of fairyland. But, even if somehow it did come to pass, the result would be a short-lived, unprincipled fudge, with no coherent ideology or programme for socialism.

Comrade Silverman gave us an insight into the politics of his version, which he described as a “transitional movement”. It would need to campaign on real issues that affect people, like defending living standards and working conditions, rather than rule changes in the Labour Party and abstract slogans like ‘peace’, ‘freedom’ and ‘justice’. The Labour manifesto of 2019 would provide its political baseline.

This is all wrong on multiple levels. First, squaring the circle: the last thing those who have abandoned Labour will want is to crawl back into bed with the left still inside, many of whom refused to confront the purge or - even worse - actively joined in. And those inside will be reluctant to unite with those who rubbish Labour and berate them to stop wasting their time.

Second, the politics of this broad left formation are those of Labourism - the best that can be achieved is a Labour Party mark two. There is no clarity on what socialism is, and the emphasis will be on electoralism and managing capitalism by passing reforms in parliament.

Third, the history of the last 25 years is littered with failed projects that have attempted to replace Labour on the left, but instead have declined into embarrassing sects. Roger Silverman stated we had to avoid such an outcome, but his offering bears all the hallmarks of another sect in the Grantite tradition.

There is a need for a new formation on the left, but nothing like that described above. It will need to be based on organising the working class to overthrow the capitalist state and introduce socialism. In other words, it needs to be based on ideological clarity rather than broad, reformist confusion. It will be able to bring together all the revolutionary groups if they are able to break free from their sect-style attachment to bureaucratic centralism. It will be able to organise members both outside Labour and inside too, campaigning for the removal of all bans and proscriptions.

The first clause in the aims and principles of Labour Party Marxists lays this out: “The central aim of Labour Party Marxists is to transform the Labour Party into an instrument for working class advance and international socialism. Towards that end we will join with others and seek the closest unity of the left inside and outside the party.”

Andrew Kirkland
Labour Party Marxists

Rt Hon Hypocrisy

I will leave it for comrades to debate the morals and ethics of celebrating the death of one’s political enemies - for example, the killing of a Tory MP. I myself took no shame in jollification after Thatcher’s long awaited departure. However, when it comes to serious politics, we ought recognise that this is generally counterproductive. In a certain sense it can be likened to the ultimate futility of individual terrorism (as a political strategy): sure enough, another drone will step up to take their place.

The mass media spectacles and vulture feeding frenzies that occur after a terror attack, royal event or establishment death provides one of the strongest cases for independent proletarian media - made by the class, for the class - and here the Weekly Worker leads the way!

That said, whilst my usual recommendation is, in such circumstances, for comrades to switch off the telly and hunker down for their own sanity, a certain (non-lethal) dosage of the so-called ‘journalism’ of the establishment press can also prove to be enlightening occasionally. Take, for example, an interview with former Labour MP Paula Sherriff on BBC Radio 4’s Woman’s hour (October 18). After singing David Amess’s praise, she stated: “We disagreed on many issues … I am very much pro-choice around things like abortion, David is pro-life.”

Interestingly for a supposed show about women’s issues, with the (albeit ‘officially sanctioned’) feminist slant that one might expect, there was no further mention of this key political issue of women’s rights. Instead, she continued to regale listeners, and as she did so, out popped an ironic slip worthy of Freud himself: “This might seem odd, because we were politicians, but we never really discussed ... partisan politics.”

No, Paula, that doesn’t seem odd to us! Amid the trite cries from politicians for ‘unity over adversity’, ‘hope defeating hate’ and slightly out-of-place 9/11-style ‘not letting the terrorists win’ declarations, we also heard the familiar nostrums of that martyred saint, Jo Cox MP, that “there is more that unites us than divides us”. Totally correct. 18% of MPs are landlords, 29% went to private schools, and something approaching 100% are career politicians - ready and willing to prostitute their politics to whatever gets them coin, power, privilege and votes.

Needless to say, this united ‘Commons community’ hasn’t always shown such shock, horror and grief at the news of the cold-blooded murder of ‘one of their own’. For example, aside from being the 40th anniversary of the founding of that most prestigious journal, The Leninist, this year also marks 40 years since the (second) H-Block hunger strikes, where Bobby Sands and nine of his Irish republican comrades starved to death over their right, as prisoners of war, to the following five demands:

Not only was Bobby at 27 one of the youngest MPs ever elected: he was also one of the shortest-lived (just 25 days). Let us also not forget that this proud IRA soldier of the Belfast Brigade was - thanks to some republican solidarity - elected with 30,493 votes. That’s 31% more than Thatcher got!

After the death of each of the 10 brave hunger-strikers, what did the pathologists and coroners record on their reports? “Self-imposed starvation”! I am sure I don’t need to lecture comrades on this. They were murdered by Thatcher and the British state in HMP Maze concentration camp.

Hollow ring the cries of the career politicians when they plead for nicer treatment for MPs and for an end to ‘nasty’, ‘polarised’ and ‘divisive’ politics. They might be surprised that there were no such ‘luxuries’ as human rights afforded by even basic ‘international law’, let alone the pleasantries, pomp and flummery of the ‘Commons’ in an H-Block cell.

Likewise the calls for greater security for ‘our politicians’. What is the best way to ensure a healthy ‘democracy’? Well, more state agents armed with guns, of course! Perhaps one irony of the previous example is that, the more radical you are, the more ‘security’ you get. After all, Bobby Sands MP was guarded 24/7 with iron bars, steel doors, concrete walls, dogs, snipers and barbed wire - all at Her Majesty’s expense!

The communist MPs of the (hopefully near) future will be - by establishment standards - ‘parliamentary brutes’. They will take only an average worker’s wage and be politically subordinate to the discipline of the Communist Party’s democratic centralism. True people’s representatives - representatives of the organised working class - will use the most ‘unparliamentary’ language, will name-call and will heckle when they expose the corruption, injustice, war and social murder committed by the bourgeoisie and its state.

Ollie Douglas
Manchester

No surprise

Maren Clarke did not disappoint in her latest response (Letters, October 14). As I predicted, rather than her breaking the habit of never actually responding with facts or reasoned argument - indeed of responding to the quotes from Marx I provided, the ideas which she had previously contested - she again fails to either defend her original argument or to withdraw it, and instead flies off at another irrelevant tangent, complete with all of the accompanying insults and unsupported allegations.

Apparently, Andrew Northall, who seeks to come to her defence in his letter in the same issue, did not see all of these insults and unsupported statements by Clarke, when he complains about “bullying”, which itself is a rather odd term for a Marxist to use in a political discussion. As Engels pointed out, the revolution itself is a very “authoritarian” event.

Clarke opens her letter both with an insult and an unsupported statement in the same sentence. She claims without any supporting facts, statements or evidence that I am guilty of a “vulgarisation of Marxism”. What is that, comrade Northall, if not an insult, and, thereby, an instance of “bullying”, and “authoritarianism”, and an attempt to shout me down by Clarke?

Moreover, similar things can be found in letters from Clarke in previous exchanges. In her first letter, in this exchange, she began by complaining that my response to Michael Roberts was “built purely on logical foundations”, which she turned into somehow being a bad thing (though something understandable, given Clarke’s own method of argumentation), and ended it with the insult: “but Bough is just too tiresome”. When such things repeatedly happen, they have to be recognised as part and parcel of the method of the individual concerned.

In her last letter, which mercifully she says is her last, she starts by claiming that my definition of trolling is her taking exception to my supposed vulgarisation of Marx - an assertion that Northall also repeats. But, nowhere have I defined ‘trolling’ in such terms. I would be highly delighted if Clarke would actually put forward a rational argument, supported by evidence, as part of any debate, and the same applies to Andrew Northall. The point is that she repeatedly fails to do any such thing, and instead relies on making unsupported assertions, sweeping statements, clothed in insults, and, whenever she is challenged with facts or reference to what Marx actually said, rather than what she continually, and wrongly, paraphrases him as saying, she simply runs away from that argument, and on to some other tangent. That is the method of the troll and, as Lenin pointed out, when the Narodniks complained about the “authoritarian” Marxists “bullying” them, by defining their ideas as “petty bourgeois romanticism” and “reactionary”, that would only have been valid, had the characterisation by the Marxists not been true and was not backed up by evidence and argument.

In my last letter, I pointed out that the argument put by Michael Roberts was far more intelligent than the position that Clarke was putting forward, even if Roberts himself is wrong. Indeed, Roberts disagrees with me on numerous points, and I with him, but nothing in that has ever prompted me to call him a troll, for the simple reason that he does present facts, evidence and reasoned argument. I could cite many more people, in similar vein, with whom such debates have taken place, without any need to define their behaviour as trolling.

Clarke’s latest letter is another classic example. The idea that she might actually give any evidence as to how I am supposed to have “vulgarised” Marx, or how anything I have said amounts to “reductionism”, never enters her head, as she expects to be able to issue these insults willy-nilly, and sweeping statements unchallenged.

But, then, an Andrew Northall will come along to support her, with his own unsubstantiated claims that Clarke is “even better read, to have understood it better and certainly how to apply it”. Well, in that case, should he not require that she demonstrates that, by responding with actual citations from Marx, or challenging the validity of those I have provided, rather than continually running away from dealing with them, with claims that to do so is “tiresome”? Northall wonders how my writing and references to Marx relate to the current world. Well, if he had been keeping track of this debate - starting from Michael Roberts’ article and my response to it, in relation to what drives the accumulation of capital - he would know the relevance of those arguments.

Arthur Bough
email

Another Assange?

I was talking with some comrades recently about the Steve Donziger case and I was surprised to learn that they had never heard of him. He’s quite a cause célèbre on the left in the US (haven’t they got a lot of them?), but not so well known here. The US investigative journalist, Greg Palast, recounts on his website a visit he made to Ecuador for BBC television.

He met the chief of an indigenous tribe, whose three-year-old son had swum in a pool of water with a “shine on it and came up vomiting blood and died in his arms. His older son, right after that, died of leukaemia. What was going on? A Chevron Texaco unit was dumping oil sludge from its drilling into the waters of the Amazon around the Cofán indigenous villages.”

In 2011 the chief and thousands of other indigenous people won $9.5 billion against Chevron oil and their advocate was US lawyer Steve Donziger. Chevron pulled all its assets out of Ecuador and went after Donziger. As a short piece in The Guardian put it, “Chevron has never paid up, claiming ‘shocking levels of misconduct’ and fraud by Donziger and the Ecuadorian judiciary. In the US, a judge agreed and said the Ecuadorian decision had been secured through bribery, fraud and extortion” (March 29).

The case was overturned in the US and then in Ecuador, with no damages to be paid, and so far one might think that this is business as usual. Fossil fuel companies pay scant regard to the impact of their wastes in the US itself, let alone in ‘lesser’ countries like Ecuador. But then we have a strange twist in the tale.

Chevron wanted to have Donziger charged with contempt of court and, as Palast points out, the justice department, even under Donald Trump, was not interested. And so, to quote Palast again, “the judge told Chevron oil to act as the prosecutor in this contempt trial. It’s the first time in US history a private corporation is prosecuting a US citizen - in fact the guy that they’re opposing. Now look, no jury is going to convict him. So the judge said, there’s no jury trial.”

So a unique case: the allegedly injured party acts as prosecutor and the judge rules out a jury. It’s no wonder then that Donziger has been under pre-trial house arrest for two years - complete with ankle bracelet - and was disbarred from practising law in New York. And now, he has a six month jail sentence for contempt. His contempt? He refused to hand over his iPhone with numbers of witnesses and whistleblowers on it. The reason - attorney client privilege.

As he said to The Guardian, “This is all part of a plan concocted by Chevron to dismantle my life. They want to do this to avoid paying up and to turn me into a weapon of intimidation against the whole legal profession” (October 1).

By the way, it’s not surprising that the comrades I talked about had never heard of him. Googling in turn ‘Donziger’, then ‘Donziger press’, then ‘Donziger UK press’, I found one Guardian piece, one from The Daily Telegraph and one from the Morning Star - the latter, by Chloe Koffman, being the best one, which I recommend as a full account. There was precious little to be seen from the US mainstream media either. Left websites, in the US and the UK, filled the gaps.

There are so many echoes of the Julian Assange case; the hegemon, and its corporations, says, ‘Don’t mess with us, buddy!’

Jim Nelson
email

Don’t miss it

A new film has been launched claiming to expose the “shocking truth” about the Labour Party - which Keir Starmer has tried to suppress, it’s claimed, by postponing publication of the Forde report.

The film, called Not the Forde inquiry, alleges that there is racism at the highest levels of the party, that freedom of speech has been effectively outlawed and that the leadership is pursuing an aggressive, McCarthyite witch-hunt against the left. In the film, shot during the Labour Party conference, a panel, including film director Ken Loach, hears shocking testimony from party members, past and present, including former Labour MP Chris Williamson.

The official Forde inquiry, chaired by QC Martin Forde, was commissioned in May 2020 to investigate a controversial leaked Labour Party report, but its findings have been repeatedly postponed. In his latest announcement Forde said he would try to report by early autumn - but to date nothing has appeared.

As one of the producers of the film, let me say that it will do what Martin Forde should have been allowed to do - blow the lid off the corrupt practices and total lack of democracy at the heart of the Labour Party.

I was chair of South Thanet Labour Party in Kent until December 2020, when I was suspended for allowing members to debate a motion supporting Jeremy Corbyn. I’m only one of hundreds of members who have been suspended or expelled for daring to allow free speech in our party. Starmer makes much of his background as a civil rights lawyer, but he has trampled on the most basic democratic rights of his own party members.

Keir Starmer has tried to conceal from the outside world what’s going on in his party. This film - which was produced by the award-winning, London-based Platform Films, and is available online at youtu.be/tUg1dr8EhLk - exposes the shocking truth: Starmer has destroyed democracy in Labour and is now facing an enormous backlash from grassroots members.

Norman Thomas
Labour In Exile Network

China event

On Saturday October 23 at 2pm I will be speaking as part of a diverse video panel on ‘What was the Chinese revolution and where is it going?’ My talk will be based on my recent Weekly Worker article, ‘Modernisation with typical characteristics’ (July 22).

If you’re interested, contact Kevin Dong for the link at kdong217@gmail.com.

Mike Belbin
London