Not a liquidation?
Abandoning any pretence of class politics, Tony Greenstein defends what he calls the ‘merger’ of LAW and LIEN and advocates yet another ‘transitional’ halfway-house broad front
Goebbels is reputed to have said that, the bigger the lie and the more often it is repeated, the greater the chance that it will be believed.1 It seems that those who have taken up arms against the merger of Labour Against the Witchhunt and the Labour In Exile Network have adopted the same tactics.
Yet nowhere in the successful resolution2 was there any mention of “liquidation” or “closing down” LAW. Paragraph 1 talked of the “consolidation” of LAW and LIEN “into one organisation”. This is not an abandonment of the fight against the witch-hunt, as Derek James argued,3 or a “liquidation” of LAW, as Paul Demarty stated.4
Point 8 of our motion called for both organisations to “fight” both “the witch-hunt in the Labour Party and the politics of Starmer”. The third aim of LIEN is to “Stop the witch-hunt”.
What makes this debate surreal is that Tina Werkmann, who led the opposition to the merger, was, as late as October 14, proposing that the two groups explore a merger5:
Just like LLA, they [LAW and LIEN] have made the fight against the witch-hunt and the anti-Semitism smear campaign a central platform of their political work - and this is reflected in the overlap of some of the comrades in the leaderships of all three groups.
This meeting believes (point 6) that:
Unity is strength. While there are obvious political differences in the history of the three groups, the composition of their memberships and some campaigning priorities, we believe that they have enough in common politically to start bringing their forces closer together ...
A month later Tina was arguing: “I would be very much in favour of building a democratic and socialist movement based on the revolutionary politics of Marxism. But that is not what is being discussed here - far from it.”6
Is Tina and those who voted for her motion really suggesting that in the course of a month LIEN has abandoned the witch-hunt? This is not serious politics.
If anyone has liquidated LAW, it is its steering committee. For the past two years it has done very little, even against the Corbyn witch-hunt. Against Starmer’s witch-hunt it has been paralysed. What it has done, like the picket of Labour’s HQ in protest at the proscriptions and the Not the Forde Inquiry at the Resist at the Rialto has been done with LIEN.7
The problem with Tina and Labour Party Marxists is that they never had any analysis of the Corbyn movement: still less any strategy worthy of the name. That is why they have written it off and are happy to see the hundreds of thousands who joined the Labour Party disappear. Instead we are told that what we need to do is to build a narrowly based movement based on “the revolutionary politics of Marxism”. In other words, a CPGB mark two.
The victory of the Tories in 2015 over the austerity-lite politics of Miliband produced a wave of anger that was channelled into support for Corbyn. Equally predictably that support became politically differentiated between a soft left and those like LAW who wished to stand up to the politics of appeasement. Rather than bringing together the best elements of that movement and going forward, Tina and LPM advocate a wholesale retreat into the politics of left sectarianism. It was that which the majority of LAW and LIEN members rejected.
The problem is that both LPM and the CPGB never understood the Corbyn phenomenon and what drove it. It was clear that the Corbyn project had captured the imagination of millions of people. On April 20 2017, shortly after the general election was announced, when everyone was predicting disaster, I wrote: “Labour can win if Corbyn is bold - the key issue is poverty and the transfer of wealth”.8 And then on June 3 “General election - is Labour on the threshold of victory?”9
In the middle of the 2017 election campaign Paul Demarty wrote that the CPGB “for more than 20 years, been committed to one political project - the reforging of a Communist Party: that is, the unification on a principled basis of all those who call themselves Marxists in this country”.10
Unsurprisingly this project has gone nowhere. You cannot from existing levels of consciousness and organisation leap to a revolutionary consciousness. You have to have something in between. Revolutionary fish need a sea in which to swim. The Corbyn movement provided just such an opportunity and that option, despite the CPGB advocating wholesale retreat and - yes - liquidation, has not ended.
Thousands of good socialists have been suspended, expelled or left the Labour Party. It is our job to say to them that the fight for socialism is not over. To point out the dire errors of Corbyn and the Momentum/CLPD/LRC left and give them hope and confidence that we can forge a new movement. The position of LPM and those who opposed the merger was one of despair, camouflaged with revolutionary rhetoric.
When LIEN was formed, it consisted of a new layer of activists, primarily suspended and soon to be expelled Constituency Labour Party officers, who had protested at the suspension of Jeremy Corbyn. Their protests were deemed “not competent” by ‘Torquemada Evans’.
Of course, there are those who are less critical of Corbyn than Esther Giles, who moved the successful motion alongside myself. But since when are Marxists afraid of debate? This idea that you can only work in a revolutionary party or speak to those who agree with you has consigned the far left in Britain to the margins. Should we repeat all the historical errors of the Marxist left?
Political clarity is also not helped by the misrepresentation of Graham Bash’s speech.11 What Graham said was nuanced. The article says that “Graham’s call to stay and fight and fight again” was “a call that went unheeded”. Not so. What we said is that it is now virtually impossible for socialists inside the Labour Party to conduct such a fight, because they will be expelled.
Nowhere have we suggested that people should voluntarily leave the Labour Party. However, we have to face up to the fact that 150,000 have resigned and another 150,000 are likely to do so. Look at the reaction of Jo Bird: “I’m delighted the Labour Party expelled me today. I’m free from fear about speaking and meeting with other people.”12
Derek James dismisses such reactions - “Bans and proscriptions, expulsions and suspensions are nothing new”, but compare this with what Graham said: “This is the greatest crisis for the Labour left in my lifetime.”13 Starmer is not merely expelling one or other sect, but is going for the left’s jugular. This is not a repeat of the Militant expulsions. It is an attack on the left as a whole.
The question is what we do about it. I and others believe that it is time to form a socialist movement which straddles both those inside and outside the Labour Party. A precondition for forming a socialist party is a mass socialist movement. Whether that can be achieved I do not know. However, does that mean we should not try?
To dismiss such movements as examples of a “warmed-up halfway house or a Labour Party mark two” is to retreat into a sectarian cul-de-sac. The CPGB write off anything bar the formation of a revolutionary Marxist Party. The problem with this ‘all or nothing’ approach is that you are likely to get nothing. We need transitional political formations.
We are not living in revolutionary times. The class struggle is at an all-time low. The working class has been atomised as a result of globalisation and the Thatcherite attack. There is a real question for revolutionaries as to our strategy and that means not hanging onto shibboleths. The CPGB/LPM stake out their positions as if they were religious dogma to be safeguarded from heretics like myself. So let me play the role of a socialist Baruch Spinoza.
- The Russian Revolution was over a hundred years ago. There must be political and material reasons why there has been no repeat. Should we not examine them?
- The working class as an agent of revolutionary change in the west is open to question. Especially in the light of working class support for the rise of parties of the far right in Britain and Europe, which the vote for Brexit and Ukip represented.
- Is not Lenin’s insight that the British working class’s conservatism owed its origins to the crumbs from the table of British imperialism not true today?
These questions are at least worthy of consideration, yet people shy away from them. I am struck by the poverty of Derek James’s analysis of the situation in the Labour Party. He compares leaders like Ernest Bevin to the right wing today. This is not serious politics and he hides it with the meaningless slogans that Labour is a “bourgeois workers’ party”.
Bevin was general secretary of the Transport and General Workers Union. He came from the working class. Is that true of the Labour right today? For years the Labour leadership relied on the block vote of the right wing of the trade union movement. Today’s right wants to be shot of the unions (and the members). Allan Bullock in his biography of Bevin quoted him as saying that the “ghost of 1929” stalked the cabinet. There was a determination to end the scourge of mass unemployment. Starmer is completely indifferent to the privatisation of the NHS, rail or any public utility.
Talk of refounding the Labour Party as a “united front of a special kind” is meaningless. There never was such a united front. The Fabians, a wholly bourgeois organisation, were one of those founders.
Derek James writes: “The plain fact is that the Corbyn moment has passed and no amount of ghost dancing is going to bring it back.” And then we are accused of running away from the battle! The Corbyn Project was not a “moment”. Nor was Black Lives Matter despite Starmer’s wishful thinking.14 The left in the Labour Party has been defeated, but thousands were politicised and saw through the false anti-Semitism allegations. That is why the last Labour conference voted to declare Israel an apartheid state.15
Today it is abundantly clear that the fake ‘anti-Semitism’ allegations were bogus. Starmer may say that “every Jew in the Labour Party counts”, but when you are five times more likely to be expelled if you are Jewish, there cannot be many who are fooled.16
The Corbyn movement has politicised hundreds of thousands of people. If LPM/CPGB have nothing to say to them and write them off politically, then they are not serious Marxist groups. LIEN/LAW is trying to regroup the best of the Corbyn movement. Of course, there are those within it who are less critical of Corbyn’s appeasement strategy, but that is precisely why the resignation of four of the six LAW steering committee was so irresponsible.
I was taunted with the fact that I was the only one out of six on LAW’s steering committee to support a merger: as if being in a majority is proof that one is right.17 Yet the four members who signed the resignation letter have failed to explain why it is that, despite being politically isolated on that committee, members voted by nearly 2-1 for a merger.18
The steering committee became detached from its members. LAW was no longer a living campaign. It had become dysfunctional. LIEN by way of contrast, although smaller, has been far more active in having different groups.
I am sorry that those who have resigned wish to portray events in such a negative light. I would appeal even now for comrades to reconsider their decision to resign and not simply walk away.
‘Merging into a cul-de-sac’ Weekly Worker December 2: weeklyworker.co.uk/worker/1374/merging-into-a-cul-de-sac.↩︎
‘Deserting the fight’ Weekly Worker November 25: weeklyworker.co.uk/worker/1373/deserting-the-fight.↩︎
‘Total intellectual collapse’ Weekly Worker April 27 2017: weeklyworker.co.uk/worker/1152/total-intellectual-collapse.↩︎
‘Stay and fight and fight again’ Weekly Worker December 12: weeklyworker.co.uk/worker/1374/stay-and-fight-and-fight-again.↩︎
‘Merging into a cul-de-sac’ Weekly Worker December 2: weeklyworker.co.uk/worker/1374/merging-into-a-cul-de-sac.↩︎
Facebook post, November 26: www.facebook.com/groups/351457695278396.↩︎
‘Why we resigned’ Weekly Worker December 2: weeklyworker.co.uk/worker/1374/why-we-resigned.↩︎