Act or quit
The Forde report means Keir Starmer must take action to reinstate unfairly expelled members of the Labour Party or step down. The report was commissioned by Starmer himself soon after he became leader in April 2020.
It confirms that after Jeremy Corbyn became leader the party’s rightwing bureaucracy pursued their own factional interests against the majority of the membership. This resulted in unfair suspensions, expulsions and smearing on an industrial scale, including many today who are part of the Socialist Labour Network.
The Forde report shows:
- That anti-Semitism was weaponised to attack people in the party for factional reasons, despite denials by Starmer and other senior members of the party that this was the case.
- There were “deplorably factional and insensitive, and at times discriminatory, attitudes” among the party’s most senior staff.
- Plus a lack of diversity, tolerance and inclusivity across the party.
- As well as a hierarchy of racism in the party.
An SLN spokesperson said:
“This is a shameful account of a party which is supposed to be for social justice and equality. Although Forde was commissioned to inquire into events that happened under the previous leader, there is no evidence that any of these failings have been addressed under Starmer - and they all demand urgent action.”
The SLN is calling for an independent investigation into the lack of diversity and inclusivity in the party. It is also calling for urgent action to bring justice to all members of the party who have suffered because of factionalism in the party bureaucracy.
The party should also put right any cases of injustice which may have taken place because of the factionalism Forde has highlighted in the party. As a matter of urgency members who were suspended or expelled from 2015 on should be able to appeal their cases with a view to reinstatement if it can be shown that they were unfairly treated for factional reasons. In particular any members who were deprived of a hearing under ‘fast track’ rules and then expelled should be reinstated pending a review of their case. In addition many members have been blocked from standing for office in the party because of abuse of the disciplinary processes and their cases should be investigated and reviewed, too.
The group is also calling for the restoration of the parliamentary whip to Jeremy Corbyn. Anyone who has read the Forde report would accept that there was no basis for suspending Jeremy Corbyn from the party and none whatsoever for refusing to return the parliamentary whip to him. He was punished only for saying - in a milder form - what Forde says up front: that anti-Semitism was weaponised in the Labour Party.
The SLN also point to an important recommendation regarding training to combat anti-Semitism in the party: Forde questions the reliance of the party on the Zionist Jewish Labour Movement for its sub-optimal training in resisting anti-Semitism and regrets that there is no role for the Jewish Voice for Labour. We call on Starmer to put this right immediately by inviting JVL to become centrally involved in the party’s educational programme.
The SLN claims that the report presents a huge test for Keir Starmer. Unless he shows himself ready to act on a report which he himself commissioned, then he should stand down immediately. And if he fails to stand down, then the many thousands of people who joined Labour to support Jeremy Corbyn will take action on their own part. This issue is not going to go away.
Socialist Labour Network
I write to protest vigorously against the baseless, inflammatory claim by your editors that I was involved in “the promotion of pro-imperialist politics when it comes to Ukraine”, by writing an article in the Durham Miners’ Gala programme.
Such a fantastic, groundless accusation can only confound discussion, not facilitate it. Your editors’ decision to make it - in the standfirst for Dave Douglass’s article (‘Past and present’, July 14) - perhaps tells us something about what the Weekly Worker thinks constitutes meaningful debate. But it doesn’t say anything about Douglass’s criticism of my article or the article itself, let alone anything actually happening in the real world in Durham, Ukraine or anywhere else.
In the gala programme article - accessible on the Labour Hub website - I reported that trade unions, including the mineworkers’ union, are providing humanitarian and medical aid to Ukrainians resisting the Russian army that is laying waste to their communities. I reported that mineworkers have been killed, fighting in volunteer defence units or the army.
If someone thinks this makes those people “pro-imperialist”, then please have the honesty to say so. Don’t tack a cheap shot at me - and by implication at my comrade and friend, Dave Temple, who Douglass also mentions - on the top of Douglass’s article.
Douglass wants a “balanced review of the arguments - especially regarding the role of Nato”. Fair enough. But the gala programme article, in which I was asked to reflect on the longstanding relationship between Durham and Ukraine miners, in the light of the war, could not have done that job in detail. If anyone cares for my opinion, I’d suggest reading my article, ‘Ukraine: the sources of danger of a wider war’ (March 21) on the People and Nature website, and other things I have written on my blog, peoplenature.org.
Douglass writes: “Pirani tells us Russia is not resisting Nato expansion, and that Nato has no plans to take Ukraine under its influence.” I did not write that. While it’s obvious that Ukraine was and is extremely unlikely ever to join Nato, powerful forces in many Nato governments would love to increase their influence over Ukraine, and indeed are doing so - in ways far more devious and complex than the Kremlin claims. On the other hand, I think the Kremlin’s assertions that Nato expansion justifies its murderous, one-sided onslaught on Ukraine, with tens of thousands of civilian victims, are patent nonsense.
I welcome serious debate on the relationship of Russian and western imperialism, the role of Nato, and Russia’s war aims. It’s a shame that your editors throw around baseless insults that obstruct such debate.
As extensively problematic as is may be for the comrade concerned to grasp, let alone accept, in his letter (July 21) David John Douglass continues to reveal himself as nothing more than a product of capitalism. As it were, merely yet another subspecies amongst those multifarious creatures created by and then conditioned by it, and so to all intents and purposes trapped within its general parameters, as well as its basic mentality.
He’s trapped within a system for the structuring of human affairs that’s fundamentally bound by considerations such as the needs of each separate nation-state’s international ‘competitiveness’ via the maintenance of ‘strength’ of its own particular economy; in turn adherence to an unquestionable, almost godlike, economic ‘growth’ and thereby again to those classically trade unionist-modal totems of the creation of ‘jobs’ (ie, within the existing industrial and corporate and even socio-cultural formats that ‘provide’ them).
That’s to name just some highlights from capitalism’s poisonous farrago. There are myriad others. Not to suggest that comrade Douglass isn’t anything but formidably honourable, as well as knowledgeable, to the point of impressive - an obvious expert in his own field. But there’s the rub: none of that holds either any truly meaningful purpose or solid value if not simultaneously - in fact integrally and unwaveringly - deploying what might be called ‘transcendent’ perspectives for humankind.
No doubt some will say how all of this is merely ‘idealism’, representative of that old bogeyman of ‘ultra-leftism’. Well, if that’s the case, so be it! Indeed, in terms of fostering, generating, designing, promoting or even inspiring productive change for our communist/Marxist left wing, let’s just ‘bring it all on!’
My report on Richard Boyd Barrett’s appearance at Marxism 2022 (‘Cliffism to ministerialism’, July 7) led to my expulsion from People Before Profit (PBP) after just one week of membership!
The article was published just before my online application to join on July 10. Afterwards I was informed by some PBP comrades that the organisation was far more democratic and open to criticism than I had implied. Therefore I decided to apply to join and I was accepted into membership on July 11 and informed: “You are joining a dynamic, democratic and collective organisation. You can partake in strategy discussions, policy-making and selection of candidates.” I received an email from Mark Penny, national administrator, informing me that my membership fee had been received and personally welcoming me. I then received a text inviting me to a ‘new members’ meeting via Zoom - all very efficient, to be fair.
I attended the new members meeting, where the presentation was given by Kieran Allen of the Socialist Workers Network (SWN) wing of PBP. I introduced myself and gave a summary of my political experience and views. I was told I would shortly be contacted by my local branch in Cork.
Instead, on July 18, I received an email from Kieran Allen and Eddie Conlon on behalf of the steering committee. This stated that my “interest in becoming involved” in PBP had been discussed by the committee, and it had decided that “your politics are incompatible with membership”. My membership fee was to be “refunded”. I replied, objecting to the expulsion and asking exactly what “incompatible” meant, but received no response. I wrote again stating I wished to appeal and asking for a copy of the constitution and appeal procedure. Again no reply.
A PBP member who objected to my expulsion helpfully sent me a copy of the constitution. It states: “Membership of People Before Profit shall be open to any individual or group sharing its aims.” Those aims confirm that “People Before Profit is a 32-county party that seeks an end to the partition of Ireland through a struggle against the two states that were designed to create a carnival of reaction, and work towards the goal of a socialist Ireland, where people from all backgrounds can have a stake.” It sets out a list of social, political and economic demands, and states: “To achieve these modest demands, we will require change from a society that is addicted to profit to one where the needs of people come first, and a radical extension of democracy.”
On participating in government, PBP
“seeks to have TDs and MLAs elected to parliament and the Northern Assembly, but these shall not join in coalition governments with rightwing parties to manage the current order. We will seek to bring change by combining a presence in parliament with mobilisation of large numbers of working people outside.”
Of course, I broadly share those aims, while having doubts - in particular over the ambiguity about entering a government under capitalism. But I am not alone in this and am aware that there are divergences on this question not only between the SWN majority of PBP and the two other networks (Rise and the Red Network), but also between members of those groups.
The SWN is the most enthusiastic about the possibilities of pulling Sinn Féin to the left sufficiently to provide the basis for entering government with it. Indeed Boyd Barrett wrote to SF leader Mary Lou McDonald in 2020 to ask her to enter into talks to form a “left government”, and expressed his disappointment at SF’s negative response on the basis that such a government would be “unworkable”. Kieran Allen continues, however, to maintain that “yes, of course we shall enter into discussions with Sinn Féin after an election about participation in such a government - should the party be willing to rule out coalition with Fianna Fáil, embrace the lesson of past left failures and be willing to mobilise people-power to push back the resistance of the rich.” To exert pressure to the left, “socialists should put forward united front-style demands on Sinn Féin. This should come by way of an appeal to their support base by addressing their leaders.”
For Allen, a “left government” is one that is prepared to break the rules of contemporary capitalism. But Sinn Féin is evidently not going to break those rules and has signalled this clearly. Just one example is its attitude towards climate change. In the current controversy over government backsliding on cutting carbon emissions in agriculture, SF has remained silent, refusing to set any emission targets of its own, being far more concerned about the rural vote than climate change. PBP TD Brid Smith has called on SF to take up the question, but her demands appear to be falling on deaf ears.
SF is actually far more like Fianna Fáil (FF) than any kind of workers’ party. Its commitments to improvements to the lives of “ordinary workers and families” depend on it balancing the books more effectively. And what we have seen of it in government in Stormont shows that such commitments are paper-thin. Indeed McDonald and her colleagues are at pains to reassure Irish capitalism that their party represents no threat. The fact that FF leader Micheál Martin stated this week for the first time that he would not rule out a coalition government with SF, testifies to a shift in establishment attitudes. FF is clearly under pressure, with SF continuing to soar in the polls - 36% in the most recent poll, as compared to only 20% for FF and 18% for Fine Gael.
Rise evidences a more leftwing approach to the question. Paul Murphy writes that “revolutionaries should participate in a left government within capitalist society if it is a ‘ruptural government’. In other words, a government that will not betray workers’ interests by remaining within the rules of capitalism, but instead will use this position to pursue a revolutionary struggle against capitalism.”
In both cases today’s “left government” slogan is equated with the “workers’ government” slogan of Germany in 1923, etc. Absolutely wrong on all sorts of levels. The working class is not organised in a revolutionary party with a programme to overthrow capitalism. These are very different times. And the slogan, “left government”, is vastly different from “workers’ government”. Left of what?
There is a major discussion to be had on the tasks ahead for the left here in Ireland. To deliberately exclude critical Marxist voices such as my own from its ranks in such a situation betrays real sectarianism and a determination by the SWN to ride on the coat tails of SF. This spells disaster - as we saw with the collapse of the Scottish Socialist Party, whose leaders thought that they could ride a wave of nationalism to a socialist Scotland. The SWN’s Boyd Barrett expresses a similar view.
To conclude, a corrective to my July 7 article. It stated that Boyd Barrett is looking forward to his ministerial car and salary - in fact, now I have the constitution, I can see that there is a rule that “elected representatives shall take in general the average industrial wage and donate the rest to campaigns”. But I still believe he is looking forward to a ministerial portfolio!
In the alternate ‘Jane Crow’ universe, barbaric and medieval, by the name of “Mississippi” (and other US states which have fallen into deep reaction) I’d like to see all the hospitals sign a pledge of non-cooperation and non-compliance with the pro-death laws which eviscerate reproductive rights, but a desire for justice on the part of hospitals would require a different world.
The doctors and nurses who took an oath to protect life should threaten to strike en masse if the hospitals remain neutral. All qualified medical practitioners in these hospitals who are involved in reproductive health should agree to volunteer certain hours per week to perform free abortions on demand; however, to expect the aforementioned scenario from the hospitals and medical professionals would be living in a quixotic fantasyland.
Well-to-do people in the state and elsewhere who oppose the subordination of women need to step up and donate millions of dollars (regardless of tax benefits or liability) for the cause of reproductive rights - which translates into saving lives from state terror: ie, money for reproductive healthcare and to bolster pro bono legal advocacy. The CEO of Starbucks is among those who’ve made a gesture in support of abortion care for their workers, but he makes no promises for the unionising stores (there are more important things in life, Howard, than the bottom line!). A fully unionised workforce can, of course, organise against the burgeoning fascist reality of politics in America and make the overturning of Roe v Wade a temporary bad dream.
A conference should be organised in the US with the purpose of founding a revolutionary political party (unless an existing organisation has revolutionary, mass-action potential) to defend and promote basic democratic rights, for starters, which are under attack or being denied: For example, reproductive rights, the right to not be locked up for poverty-related crimes or for seeking asylum; the right of people incarcerated for decades, for no good reason (ie, Leonard Peltier) to be freed immediately. The racist system of mass incarceration in a ‘criminal justice’ system, which is an intractable instrument of state control and exploitation, needs to be commandeered by the working class and their allies.
All large and small organisations - ie, rank-and-file trade union formations and civic organisations - and individuals, who want to see fundamental political transformation, will have a voice in this party. Additionally, if a political party becomes large enough and faces political competition, a ‘united front’ approach, in my opinion, is the way to accomplish the needed changes and define the path forward. I wonder if such politics are relevant to current conditions.
What is a united front? It’s a theory and practice that was articulated at length by Leon Trotsky, which, if implemented, would undoubtedly have prevented the historical catastrophe facilitated by European fascists during the Spanish civil war and World War II. Basically, the objective is to join with all forces against the enemy, including reformist and centrist forces, around specific issues, without compromising revolutionary principles. Another objective of a united front is to win over the activists who can be convinced of the futility of remaining loyal to the bourgeois organisation of society; the idea is mass unity and solidarity on the basis of proletarian interests. ‘March separately, but strike together!’ - an idea which probably originated in Germany, circa 1921.
The ‘class’ in charge - the moneyed interests and their legal agents in the courts - needs a come-uppance: we need a class-struggle solution to deal with the present, rampaging capitalist system. At times, capitalism relentlessly progresses to a fascist tyranny, the signs of which appear evident.
Action is needed; time is of the essence!
Soviets and Gerry
I thought Gerry Downing made some interesting points (yes, genuinely) in his discussion counterposing soviet democracy to representative democracy (Letters, July 14).
I am generally in favour of much more direct democracy - certainly far more than we have at the moment - and would want to see far higher levels of direct democracy under socialism. For me, that is part of the basic case for socialism/communism. One of the strong arguments against ‘bourgeois’ democracy is that people vote once every four and five years to hand over power to a group of then unaccountable politicians to do more or less what they like. Forms of direct democracy are necessary at the very minimum to ensure elected representatives are constantly accountable, representative and responsible to the electorate.
Direct democracy means that whole populations are able to take decisions which affect them rather than hand them over to elected delegate or representatives. I don’t think direct democracy and representative democracy have to be counterposed - one could easily complement and enhance the other. You can see frequent polls or consultations of whole populations taking broad decisions on principle and directions of travel - and elected representatives working up the detail and practicalities.
On Gerry’s arguments about soviets of workers, etc, being superior to representative democracy, there is an obvious point that under soviet power lower soviets were meant to elect higher soviets - would these therefore not also be a form of representative democracy?
In its struggle to be a ‘class for itself’, to develop independent politics and organisation, ultimately to overthrow the capitalist state, it seems obvious the working class has to (and does) develop its own structures and organisations completely separate and independent of the bourgeois state, including parliaments and local councils. These working class structures are variously referred to as soviets, workers’ councils, factory councils, popular committees, councils of action, etc. A great deal of the working class’s potential power lies in its central role in the production of goods and services and the fact it supplies a lot of the staffing of the various elements of the state apparatus. It is not surprising therefore that self-organisation of the working class has taken the form of workers’ or factory councils; in revolutionary Russia these included peasants’ and soldiers’ soviets.
But must these always be based on workers as workers and in workplaces? Popular committees, which have emerged, for example, as part of the unified Palestinian resistance and intifada, are based on communities rather than workplaces and are taking responsibility for a whole range of local state and civil society functions, including public safety, health, education, social provision, etc - especially where the occupation does not operate or has been forced out. Councils of Action during the 1926 general strike in Britain, whilst based on local trade unions, were also firmly grounded in local working class communities, not just workplaces, organising and mobilising solidarity and social protection.
‘Points of production’ will always remain important to the working class and the development of working class consciousness and organisation under capitalism, but they have changed very significantly in the past decades. There are now far fewer large factories and fewer very large workplaces. In many industries and services, with modern technology and many workers working individually, in small groups or from home, it can be really hard to identify specific ‘points of production’ as such. They may exist virtually and/or across a range of settings and locations.
An interesting counterexample may be large hospital sites - very large workplaces with thousands of people on site at any one time, plus many more thousands directly concerned with that hospital, either as the off-duty workforce, recent patients or relatives of patients. Hospital soviets? Even here, hospital workers, patients and visitors live in local communities, so does it always make sense to be talking only of workers’ or workplace soviets?
Developing class consciousness must include breaking down the artificial silos between work, home, leisure, workplaces and communities, to bring together and unify the whole class across all aspects of our lives. It is far more than the economic relationship which operates in work and work settings. The working class needs to organise across all these settings and develop an integrated, unified and coherent approach to all these issues.
Workers and workplace councils or soviets will remain important in any revolutionary process - they are part of building up the power of the working class and the force necessary to overthrow and destroy the capitalist state. The independent structures and organisations built up by the working class in its struggle against capitalism must also be an important component of the post-revolution rule of the working class, often termed the dictatorship of the proletariat.
But what about those millions of the working class who are not active workers or in workplaces? Those not in paid work; unpaid home workers; unpaid (often women) carers for children, the elderly and infirm; pensioners; children. How are these millions of members of the working class to be included in working class democracy?
Just as we must envisage socialist democracy established after socialist revolution being further deepened and broadened, as part of the transition to full socialism, we must surely have to think about working class democratic institutions broadening out from just paid workers and formal workplaces to embrace the whole of the working class, and the most reasonable and sensible way to do this must involve some form of geographical representative bodies and/or direct, whole community involvement. This is where Gerry’s sharp polarising of workers’ soviets versus representative democracy really breaks down.
If the concern is about excluding members of the overthrown classes and their political representatives, parties, etc from the new socialist democracy, this can easily be achieved. You simply deprive your identified actual or potential enemies of a range of political and civil rights, liberties and freedoms, and thereby exclude them from political life under a socialist democracy. You don’t need a soviet system in order to do that.
So Gerry will not be surprised that I find no issue at all with the evolution of the soviet system in the USSR, reflecting the consolidation and deepening of socialism, from the original soviets of workers’, peasants’ and soldiers’ deputies, which elected successively higher soviets, to soviets which were increasingly directly elected and based on whole geographical areas and nations, and which enabled the full contribution and involvement of the whole of the working population in soviet socialist democracy.
As I recall, the soviet system after 1936 had no real difficulty in excluding members of the overthrown classes, their supporters and organisations from political power in the Soviet Union, despite it then being based on geographical, directly elected representative bodies. Indeed the criticism is often it was rather too effective at doing so.