Unity without principle
It does not look like the Resist Movement has much of a future. Anti-sectarianism is a good thing, but not if it means fudging, refusing to take a stand and disparaging sharp argument. Gerald Wiley reports
Chris Williamson has been an active presence on the fringe events of the left since he resigned from the Labour Party in 2019 in order to stand as an independent in the general election (he got just 635 votes and came bottom of the poll).
Clearly, the comrade is sincere, is motivated by an anti-sectarian impulse and is genuinely hopeful of seeing various, often deeply hostile, political and theoretical traditions drawn together. He not only wants to keep people together who are no longer in the Labour Party, so they can stay in touch, swap information, jointly campaign, etc: he has also been keen to encourage comrades to engage with ideas, as evidenced by his prominent role in organising the Festival of Resistance - an event which took place over October 16-17 in Nottingham under the banner of his Resist Movement. Around 100 attended in what was, sad to say, a display of confusion, not clarity.
In his introductory remarks, comrade Williamson suggested that recent events had shown that “the Labour Party is a bigger barrier to a socialist transition than the Tories” - which would certainly be the case, if masses of people were actually demanding, striving towards, hungry for, something like socialism, or even the transition to the genuine article. But because they are not, then it is far too early, given the bifurcated nature of Labour as a bourgeois workers’ party, to give up on it as a site of struggle. Not, of course, the only site of struggle - that would be stupid - but a site of struggle nonetheless.
Understandably, and quite rightly, the comrade saved particularly harsh words for the “so-called Socialist Campaign Group of Labour MPs” - a conspiratorial gaggle that has exposed its “utter uselessness”. Basically, comrade Williamson accused them of operating as “Starmer’s useful idiots”. Worse, this group gives the gullible the impression that it is capable of some sort of “redemption”, when the Corbyn debacle showed that “in reality, it isn’t”.
Thus, the key question that must be posed and convincingly answered, comrade Williamson believes, is that old chestnut - “What is to be done?” Unfortunately, just throwing this famous phrase out there does not guarantee a useful answer coming back. Indeed, when the comrade elaborated further, he gave us a bland, very modest checklist of activities that are standard fare for the left in general. Thus, he told us that:
- We need to “find a way to collaborate” with other socialist individuals and groups “outside the Labour Party” (inside too, we presume, although Chris did not make that explicit).
- We must bring radicals and trade unionists together.
- We need to develop “independent media platforms”.
- We have an important job to encourage “community organising on the ground”.
- In addition, as “Resist grows stronger”, there will be “relentless efforts to divide us”, so we must be vigilant to guard unity. The key to pushing back on this is “building alliances across the progressive left”, which will be “the secret to our success”.
Apparently, these imperatives are why Resist has already taken a seat on the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition steering committee and is also “working closely” with the newly formed Workers Party of Britain. Comrade Williamson mentioned the close ties he apparently has with the WPB, whose leader is, of course, George Galloway, and whose prominent founding members, such as Joti Brar, are Stalin devotees. So, so far so eclectic, comrade.
However, the problem comes when life demands answers … as it will. What assessment does the Resist Movement have of the Soviet Union? When did things go wrong and why? Ducking such vital questions simply will not do.
Other than this display of anti-sectarianism, Chris essentially presented us with pretty much the standard left Labourite fare, including telling us what a nice chap Sir David Amess was with his commitment to animal rights and a private message to him over the fake charges of anti-Semitism. Sir David did not believe them for a moment. But then who really does? They are a big lie.
The Festival team gathered together quite an extensive and mostly interesting group of speakers. For example, Dave Nellist - veteran stalwart of the Socialist Party in England and Wales - highlighted, as you would expect, the ‘key role’ of Tusc. He recommended its policy document that he readily admitted was mostly taken from Labour’s 2019 election manifesto (ie, a nicer, a fairer, a less warlike capitalism). He finished his contribution with a call for unity and the need to avoid letting the 20% where we disagree stop us from collaborating on the 80% where we agree - a ‘common sense’ truism that is typically used to excuse opportunist fudge.
Comrade Nellist explained how the federal nature of Tusc’s arrangements for candidates worked. All it requires are some minimal policies, such as:
... opposing all cuts, supporting workers’ struggles, fighting for united working class struggle against racism and all forms of oppression, setting needs budgets and fighting the government to provide the shortfall. And, beyond that, those that are involved in Tusc have the autonomy of running their own campaigns.
That would be true for Resist too, he assured his audience.
In answer to a question, the comrade conceded that this approach may mean a slower pace of progress than some would wish, but it would maintain unity, he suggested. It would protect smaller groups from being railroaded by a larger bloc. It was a well targeted approach from comrade Nellist and he received a healthy round of applause for it.
However, the key debate needed was on the future of this new organisation and the need for clarity on the central question: what sort of party is required? Unfortunately though, the agenda was stuffed with altogether secondary issues and, when we came at last to this key item, there was a ludicrously short time for discussion. Speakers from the floor were allowed a measly two minutes - no wonder some comrades lost their rag when they were prevented from making any coherent arguments. This arrangement was ridiculous and insulting.
The event organisers had taken it into their heads to have two ‘mainstage panel debates’, as they called them. These had the specific task of discussing the prospect of registering as a political party. However, instead of open discussion, the first panel debate was composed of various lefty ‘celebs’. Moreover, these four luminaries were allocated three quarters of an hour to muse on the problem.
Naturally, the arrangements caused some dissent. Understandably, many were frustrated and who can blame them?
This is not to imply that the invited guests said nothing worth listening to. Far from it. A panel composed of Hannah Sell of SPEW, Nina Schild of Die Linke, comedian Alexei Sayle and Joti Brar is worth a comment in and of itself. But it hardly brought clarity.
It is worth telling readers that this was the first time that the members of the Resist Movement had been given a chance to discuss the issue that many felt to be the key question, which would decide how comrades would organise themselves, their relation to electoral politics, what sort of programme they would fight for, etc.
The majority in the hall voted to register as a political party - a decision, I think, that will at this stage possibly hasten disintegration, rather than bring about consolidation. That said, we are still not yet in possession of all the results. We await the ‘electric vote’, which is accorded to all paid-up members in the week following the festival. In effect politics by referenda. Fine for Louis Bonaparte and his dictatorship, but surely not the workers’ movement.
So it was all very messy. Given the sequence of events, the makeshift and slightly frenetic way the Festival was organised, the lack of serious discussion about the organisation’s nature and perspectives, it almost seems possible that the Resist Movement could declare itself a political party before it has a properly constituted elected leadership and a programme.
Lastly, in a meeting that was overwhelmingly dominated by panel speakers and harsh time strictures, the Festival of Resistance owes comrade Tony Greenstein a little debt for managing to get in and take on Joti Brar, the number two in George Galloway’s Workers Party. Her contribution was brief and to the point: Unify the left? No! They are running dogs of imperialism! Destroy the Labour Party! Join the Workers Party!
In response, comrade Greenstein managed in his two minutes to mention the historical dichotomy between international revolution and ‘socialism in one country’. He reminded us that Galloway had “specifically said that Trotskyists are not welcome in the Workers Party”. Presumably, as a result of his bitter experience of the thoroughly dishonest SWP and their fellow travellers in Respect. Worse, Galloway had actually given support to Nigel Farage and the Brexit Party (as had Joti Brar). “You cannot win the working class to socialism by appealing to the worst common denominator,” said comrade Greenstein - a militant remainer.
But comrade Williamson rebuked him for his ‘divisive’ comments - “Aren’t we in new times?” he asked. I hope I misunderstood. The notion that we blithely tolerate forming a cross-class common front with the likes of Farage is a surrender to reaction - whatever times we happen to be in.