Open letter to ‘Red Line TV’
Jack Conrad scorns the ‘alive and kicking’ claim, questions Labour Briefing’s ‘great tradition’ and urges rebellion against LRC’s social-imperialism
Dear comrades, we take it that Jackie Walker’s response to our recent Labour Briefing obit article by James Harvey is a joint effort on behalf of Tina Werkmann, her co-presenter on Red Line TV, and others besides. Either way, the claim that Labour Briefing - what was the monthly journal of the Labour Representation Committee - is “alive and kicking” is impossible to take seriously (Letters, May 5).
Graham Bash, founder and former editor, has publicly announced: “Labour Briefing has now ceased production as a PDF/magazine” … and rightly, given those circumstances, he has offered to reimburse subscribers.
True, he says Briefing is “making the transition to ‘Red Lines/Briefing TV’, but, frankly, that is akin to saying Marxism Today made the transition to Martin Jacques getting his Chinese sinecures and LSE fellowship, or that the labour movement’s Daily Herald made the transition to Rupert Murdoch’s “soaraway” Sun, or that the flapping, squawking Norwegian Blue made the transition to being a “resting” parrot.
No, there has been a break. Labour Briefing has passed on! This journal is no more! Has ceased to be! Has expired! Briefing is dead, is buried, is gone!
Nor does your LRC mothership look to be in a particularly fit and healthy condition either. It is alive, yes (just), but not doing much in the way of kicking. Committees, membership structures, websites - all appear to be inert: that, or in severe decline. For example, the February 5 online AGM was attended by a mere 50 people and went on to elect 35 comrades to leading positions. So absurdly top-heavy - lots of chiefs, but very few Indians. And, despite being elected as web manager, the irreplaceable Ian Morris - well, until the next AGM - has not updated LRC’s site since February 26. In fact, the whole organisation is characterised by demoralisation, lethargy and decay. The reason for this sorry state of affairs is, needless to say, bleedin’ obvious.
With Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership of the Labour Party the political programme of Labour Briefing/LRC was tried and tested to the point of destruction. Not only were the policies promoted by Briefing’s ideal leader, as it turned out, exceedingly moderate: when the ‘Anti-Zionism equals anti-Semitism’ witch-hunt really gained momentum, the Corbyn leadership willingly threw one friend, one comrade, one principled leftwinger after another to the wolves in the name of appeasing the rightwing majority in the Parliamentary Labour Party ... and securing a Corbyn government. (But given the UK constitution and the fact that the monarch appoints who can be expected to command a House of Commons confidence vote, this was stupid to the nth degree - the PLP right were never going to vote for Corbyn unless each and everyone of them had a gun directly pointed to their head).
First they came for Jackie Walker, then Marc Wadsworth, then Tony Greenstein, then Stan Keable, then Moshé Machover, then Chris Williamson ... and then hundreds upon hundreds of others. But Jeremy Corbyn, John McDonnell, Diane Abbott, etc maintained a criminal silence throughout. Indeed, under ‘leftwing’ general secretary Jennie Formby, the witch-hunt grew both in scope and intensity. To deny that the Labour Party had an anti-Semitism problem became a disciplinary offence in its own right: denialism.
Despite all that, Labour Briefing refused to denounce - let alone break from - Corbyn and the official Labourite left. How could it? It was tied body and soul to the fantasy of a Labour government with Corbyn as prime minister. Till he found it inconvenient, in terms of maintaining his silly little career, shadow chancellor, John McDonnell, was provided with a regular Labour Briefing column to whitter on about Modern Monetary Theory or some such other nonsense. Fully in that servile spirit of Briefing’s “great tradition” (Jackie Walker) the column was ended without explanation … and then the LRC February 5 2002 AGM went on to elect McDonnell as president.
By contrast, we in the CPGB used our influence in Hands Off the Peoples of Iran to remove John McDonnell as honorary president and to openly sever all links with this spineless opportunist. Good riddance, we say.
With Labour going down to a crushing December 2019 general election defeat, Corbyn stupidly resigned, to make way for the hapless Rebecca Long-Bailey, but, totally predictably, the consummate careerist, Sir Keir, got in instead. Even Corbyn’s own Constituency Labour Party voted for this Pabloite turncoat. When the witch-hunt finally, inevitably, turned on Corbyn himself, there was no serious force there to defend him. Nowadays, Labour members are barred from even mentioning Corbyn’s suspension from the PLP at meetings. Testimony to the complete and utter failure of Briefing’s programme.
‘Red Line TV’ is a Zoom/Facebook/video production job that comes out weekly and features lots and lots of speakers in lots of lots of bite-sized slots. And, true, compared with a dead Labour Briefing, a dead LRC website and the general torpor that hangs over the entire LRC project, ‘Red Line TV’ stands out as ‘alive and kicking’. But, of course, there is the problem of politics.
Form and content are closely related and in this context we note Jackie Walker dismissing the closure of Briefing because the “visual media is where growth in communication is”. Sounds like advertising agency-speak to me. Certainly not serious politics. Only a fool would dismiss the visual media either in the arts or in politics. But the implication is that the editors of ‘Red Line TV’ consider the print media passé, so very 20th century, not really relevant to nowadays. If that is the case, it certainly explains why you in ‘Red Lines TV’ are so nonchalant about the demise of Labour Briefing.
But the fact of the matter is that challenging, difficult, highly complex, ideas are best explored, best explained in written form. The Japanese Capital - in Manga! must count, by definition, as mainly visual. In 1927 Sergei Eisenstein envisaged making a film of Capital - that would have been amazing, if it could have been pulled off, and surely only an Eisenstein - well, at that time - could have pulled it off. But surely no-one would suggest that reading Capital should be replaced by watching ‘Red Lines TV’, even if it had a brilliant talent such as Eisenstein available to it (which, sad to say, it hasn’t).
Not that Briefing had a tradition of carrying challenging, difficult, highly complex ideas. Most articles were in the hundreds of words, not the thousands. No less to the point, few articles rose above the trivial, the ephemeral, the anti-Tory, anti-Labour right, anti-capitalist and anti-imperialist banalities that are standard fare in too many leftwing publications. Polemics, to-and-fro debate, historical and theoretical investigations were notable by their absence. There were exceptions, but what can be said in a few hundred words? Very little, if anything.
Not that Briefing was eclectic. Articles were joined together by the common sense that historical progress, socialism, would come about through the Labour Party and the election of Labour governments. In class terms that amounted to a strategy of alignment with one wing - the liberal wing - of the bourgeoisie. After all, the Labour Party is a bourgeois workers’ party, in which the bourgeois pole has historically dominated. Even with Corbyn, bourgeois politics dominated … though he provoked fear in the establishment of some sort of crisis of expectations.
Either way, this strategic alliance with the labour and trade union bureaucracy (and hence with the liberal bourgeoisie) is what passed for Briefing’s common sense, and, of course, ‘Red Line TV’ says, via Jackie Walker, that it is “committed to developing” this “great tradition”. A dreadful mistake, let us call it that, which surely can be rectified, if there is the will, the determination to fight, fight and fight again.
What about the claim to be “non-factional”? In our tradition - that is, the tradition of classical Marxism, not least the tradition of Bolshevism - “non-factionalism” is forever associated with the left dilettantism and fake unity-mongering promoted by Leon Trotsky between the years 1903-17. Trotsky called his various journals, eg, Borba, “non-factional”, but, in actual fact, they championed the interests of a definite political group which was notable because of its lack of definite politics.
Not surprisingly, Vladimir Lenin was scathing. He accused Trotsky of using the label “non-factionalism” to “mislead the younger generation of workers” (CW Vol 20, Moscow 1977, pp327-47). Of course, ever since 1903 there had existed for practical purposes two factional groups in the Russian Social Democratic Labour Party: Bolsheviks (majorityists) and Mensheviks (minorityists). Both had deep roots in the working class and as such were able to operate as separate organisations, with their own press, apparatus, trade union fractions, fighting units, Duma deputies, etc. There were unity congresses in 1906 and 1907, but no unity. Fundamentally disunity stemmed from the fact that each faction adhered to its own distinct strategic conception of the Russian revolution. The Bolsheviks looked to the peasant masses as their key internal ally, the Mensheviks to the liberal bourgeoisie (both looked to the socialist working class internationally). That key internal strategic difference manifested itself in every big dispute - the December 1905 uprising, how to participate in Duma elections, whether to support or oppose moves towards a Russian version of the British Labour Party, the outbreak of World War I, etc.
However, besides these two big factions, there were numerous little exile groupings located in Paris, Vienna, London, Zurich, etc, one of them being the Trotsky faction. Whereas political definiteness was an unmistakable characteristic of Bolshevism, what was characteristic of the Trotsky faction was its lack of political definiteness. ‘Non-factionalism’ allowed Trotsky to propose all manner of unprincipled unity projects, and the main obstacle to unprincipled unity was, of course, the Bolsheviks, who were, inevitably, denounced as sectarians, splitters and sowers of division.
‘Red Line TV’ professes to be ‘non-factional’, but it too is, in actual fact, a definite faction. If it is really a continuation of Briefing, as claimed, then it is strategically wedded to the labour and trade union bureaucracy and, heaven help us, the election of the next Labour government. If it is something new, as we hope and suspect, then it needs to decide what principles it stands on as a matter of extreme urgency.
Hosting truncated debates on trans rights, global warming, women’s oppression and other such issues makes for mildly interesting broadcast journalism. But we are working class politicians and that demands the taking up of definite positions. Neutrality, real or feigned, is a bourgeois affectation upheld by the BBC, ITV, Sky, etc. However, of course, today there is the Ukraine war. I know you in ‘Red Line TV’ put together a little package of talking heads a month or so ago. One of them was our comrade, Yassamine Mather. But what is the position of ‘Red Lines TV’ itself?
This matters not only because the Ukraine war has the potential to drag on for years: mission creep more and more threatens to directly involve Nato forces. What is today a proxy war can all too easily become a direct war against Russia. So there is more than a whiff of World War III in the air.
As you know, both the LRC and Labour Briefing are listed as sponsors of the Ukraine Solidarity Campaign. This outfit has its political origins in CIA operations in eastern Europe, which can only but be considered to be a manifestation of out-and-out social-imperialism today.
Will ‘Red Line TV’ join the social-imperialist camp? It will do so, if it is a continuation of the “great tradition” of Briefing. No, no, no, comrades - instead you must rebel. Hiding behind the cover of “non-factional” factionalism will not do. Life demands that you take a definite position. Rebel, openly, unmistakably, against social-imperialism and the rotten tradition of Labour Briefing.