No anti-communist witch-hunts
Members of Communist Students have been banned from a new 'open' socialist youth organisation set up by supporters of the John McDonnell campaign. James Turley and Tina Becker report
Members of Communist Students, who intend playing a full part in the campaign to elect John McDonnell as leader of the Labour Party, had been looking forward to the January 13 launch conference of the Socialist Youth Network, the youth organisation of the Labour Representation Committee (LRC).
We had been drawing up our suggestions for the campaign and had been discussing the possibility of a CS stall with conference organisers - we were "more than welcome" to organise one, we were told. However, when a CS member asked (interim) conference chair Owen Jones about the procedure for putting forward motions, he was told that the (unelected) steering committee had decided that, far from being able to put motions, he would not even be allowed to attend as a delegate - only as an observer without speaking rights. We were then given a list of names of all those CS comrades banned from taking out SYN membership - including some people who had joined the network months ago. And we were now told that no CS stall would be permitted.
The Socialist Youth Network website states: "SYN is for anyone who wants to fight for a working class voice in British politics, whether or not you are a member of the Labour Party. It is open to people under the age of 30 and to students of any age." Article 3 of the draft constitution confirms that "All LRC members aged under 30 shall automatically be deemed to be members of SYN. Any other person under the age of 30 may join SYN on payment of the required membership fee."
Well, not quite. Members of Communist Students - an organisation which, of course, the CPGB took the lead in establishing - have been informed that "SYN membership is open to members of the Labour Party or those who are a member of no party" (our emphasis). We have asked for clarification as to when, where and by whom this 'tweak' was decided and have yet to receive a satisfactory answer.
We are now in the ridiculous situation that CS members have not even got the chance to argue that they (or anybody else, for that matter) should not be banned - most of us have no speaking or voting rights at conference, to be held at the University of London Union in Malet Street. Only those CS comrades who are not members of other political organisations (apart from CS itself presumably) are allowed to join SYN and participate fully at conference.
First we were told that it was CPGB members who would not be allowed to join SYN. When we contested that, the story changed - after all, the LRC allows members of other parties to join (as associate members), as long as they "do not stand candidates against the Labour Party". So now the line being spun was that CS comrades who were "prominent Respect members" would be banned.
This is highly contradictory stuff. And it got worse: An attempt was even made to bar a CS member who had signed the founding statement of the Campaign for a New Workers' Party - which, as its name suggests, is not a party, let alone one that runs candidates anywhere. Owen Jones has since changed his mind after our protests - at least about this particular member.
Of course, there are plenty of SYN members and delegates to conference who also happen to belong to other leftwing organisations - we know of at least three who are more than healthily represented. Some prominent members have even put forward motions to conference (they are openly available at the SYN website - www.socialistyouth.org.uk). And, yes, their organisations have put forward "candidates against New Labour", which is one of the reasons quoted for not letting Respect members join.
It looks like there is one set of rules to control the communists - and another set for the rest (to their credit, a couple of supporters of one of the organised groups within SYN have protested against the hypocrisy of our exclusion). To suggest that the political affiliation of those SYN members would be unknown to New Labour (and any of its spies who might be taking an interest) is just laughable. Naturally, we do not want those comrades to be banned from the SYN either. Everybody should have the right get involved. Surely campaigns like comrade McDonnell's leadership bid need the widest possible support of the working class movement? Surely, the stronger our organisation, the better? Should the SYN not attempt to win Respect members away from the auto-anti-Labourism that has infected so many, including a large section of the Socialist Workers Party rank and file?
In fact some CS member are card-carrying members of the Labour Party. Not even the New Labour thought police has felt the need to exclude us. It is ridiculous that a leftwing section of the party - one that has been formed in opposition to the bureaucracy and rightwing politics of Blair and co - should be appointing McCarthyite doorkeepers. This is very dangerous for the future of the SYN. There are plenty of examples from the history of the organised left that show where such bans and proscriptions lead.
The reason quoted for our exclusion was that of "security". Conference would be crawling with New Labour spies. They would be looking for any conceivable reason to shut the SYN down. One false move and the whole project was doomed. Without (necessarily) challenging the veracity of such claims, it seems that the right has already won. They do not actually need to raise a finger - the SYN will police itself.
That the Blairites find such willing victims is frankly shameful. The LRC and the Labour left in general should know, better than anyone else, the effect on our movement of bureaucratic machinations. The sustained efforts of generations of rightwing Labour leaders have ensured, by fair means and (mostly) foul, that they never lose their grip on the party. The very position that the SYN finds itself in - wondering if each meeting is to be its last - is a direct result of these anti-democratic methods, the methods we now find applied to us.
Communist Students are an obvious target - because at meetings and conference we openly declare our affiliation and speak our minds frankly and honestly. We even go so far as to proclaim this as a sound basis for any political organisation which is to prosper. In truth, our exclusion has nothing to do with "security" or the fact that some of us are members of Respect or the CPGB per se. But it has everything to do with our culture of open debate. And the fact that the Weekly Worker has consistently attacked the lack of transparency on the British left, the bureaucratic shenanigans in Respect and the backroom dealings prevalent across the left.
Bureaucrats hate the Weekly Worker. And bureaucrats always think that they are the ones that will get away with it. Well, we have news for them: they won't. We are not on a "wrecking mission", as Owen Jones charges in his increasingly hysterical emails. But we are fighting for a principled, socialist intervention in the Labour Party - just as Lenin advocated (see below).
The only way that the SYN can combat the bureaucracy of the Blairites is to break with bureaucratic methods comprehensively and absolutely itself. It must organise on an open and principled basis, appealing both within the party and without. This conspiratorial flailing will get the SYN nowhere - a 'well-behaved', self-policing organisation will actually be much easier to kill off than an openly rebellious one. After all, who will mourn the passing of another 'not more leftwing than Tribune, honest guv' Labour left?
The LRC and SYN need to be better than that - for all our sakes.
Communist Students are looking for your support for the following emergency motion to the January 13 conference.
If you support this statement (the first two paragraphs are taken from the SYN homepage), send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Please let us know if you are a member of SYN, the Labour Representation Committee and/or the Labour Party.
"SYN is for anyone who wants to fight for a working class voice in British politics, whether or not you are a member of the Labour Party. It is open to people under the age of 30 and to students of any age.
"We want to reach out to young people in the student movement, in trade unions and in precarious jobs, those who feel disillusioned and marginalised by the lack of opportunity for socialist debate in British politics. We aim to be a vibrant campaigning force on a number of fronts, revitalising youth activism, sweeping away apathy and creating a strong sense of class consciousness.
"Everybody, whether they are members of other organisations or parties or not, is welcome to become a full SYN member, with speaking and voting rights at conference. We are against bans and proscriptions."
CPGB and Labour
From the CPGB's 'Theses on the Labour Party', published in Weekly Worker January 29 2004
6. Overcoming Labourism is a central task of communists in Britain. To bury oneself in the bowels of the Labour Party and subordinate everything to staying in there till the glorious day when the class struggle miraculously transforms it into an instrument of socialism is naive at best. At worst it is downright treachery. On the other hand, to stand aloof from the Labour Party and its internal disputes and conflicts is as good as useless. It is a sectarian pose.
7. Unlike the Social Democratic Federation, the British Socialist Party - which succeeded it - sought and gained affiliation to the Labour Party. Its paper The Call constantly attacked Labour's social chauvinist leadership on a principled basis. Lenin urged the newly formed Communist Party of Great Britain - the BSP being the main component source - not only to seek affiliation, but to work to put the Labour Party into government. A short-term tactic, not a long-term strategy. Communists had to demand "complete freedom of criticism". Affiliation was therefore a two-pronged tactic. If the Labour leadership rejected CPGB affiliation, that would expose the utter falseness of its claimed commitment to socialism. Likewise putting Labour into office would expose it in practice in front of the whole of the working class.
8. Lenin recognised a mass Communist Party in Britain as a burning necessity. Socialism can only come through that revolutionary portal - not a reformed Labour Party nor a new Labour Representation Committee. Lenin knew, however, that a mass CPGB was impossible without the communist vanguard actively and closely cooperating with that broad section of the working class which possesses medium-level class consciousness. Namely the membership and base of the Labour Party.