Abuse and lies
On May 25, as the racist English Defence League marched through Newcastle, police arrested 14 anti-fascists, held them for up to 10 hours, and raided their homes, seizing computers and mobile phones. Seven Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! supporters were amongst them.
In the weeks before the EDL march, Newcastle Unites, a coalition of Labour councillors led by Dipu Ahad, local trade union officials and the Socialist Workers Party, had been determined to exclude FRFI and other militant anti-fascists from its march. Its planning meetings were held in secret and its supporters physically assaulted FRFI members to exclude them. On the day of the march, Newcastle Unites stewards colluded openly with Northumbria police, leading to our comrades’ arrest. A defence campaign has now been set up to fight the possible charges: the comrades are currently on police bail until August 7.
On June 3 Newcastle Unites issued a public statement denying any responsibility for the arrests and any collusion with the police (Letters, June 6). The statement is a torrent of abuse directed at the Revolutionary Communist Group and Fight Racism, Fight Imperialism, interwoven with fabrications and downright lies. It is a desperate measure by Newcastle Unites: its reputation and that of of its principal supporters lie in tatters. They have put their narrow, sectarian, privileged interests before the needs of building a serious fight against racism and fascism in Newcastle. It claims that it is ‘broad-based’ and counts allegiance from trade unions, anti-racist and faith-based organisations. But the fact that it ran to the police when under political challenge shows that this claim is entirely hollow.
Underpinning Newcastle Unites’ sectarianism is a determination not to confront state racism. In government, Labour was a ruthless persecutor of asylum-seekers and used the ‘war on terror’ to criminalise Muslim youth. Now the Labour Party has made clear that it will continue to implement the Con Dem coalition’s attack on welfare benefits if it wins the next general election. Critics of the Labour Party and Newcastle Unites have to be silenced by any means necessary: excluding them, censoring their views, or shopping them to the police. When FRFI put up reports criticising the actions of Newcastle Unites on our website, their response was to demand that we censor ourselves by taking them down and stop Newcastle comrades from posting further articles. Since the EDL march, Newcastle Unites has removed any comments critical of its actions and its statement from its Facebook page. It will not tolerate any political challenge.
The Newcastle 14 Defence Campaign is now organising publicly to protect our comrades from potentially very serious charges: they were arrested for conspiracy to commit violent disorder. All those who support the aims of the campaign are able to attend. By contrast, Newcastle Unites meets in secret. It says it has no choice because of the possibility of an assault by the EDL. Yet it is not possible to draw new people into the struggle if the key decisions are made behind closed doors: it is exclusive and undemocratic. All left and anti-racist groups have to face the possibility of fascist attack, which is why the RCG led moves to coordinate defence following an EDL and NF attack on an anti-jubilee protest in 2012.
The Newcastle Unites statement complains that, when we reported the assault by their supporters on our comrades on May 7, we compromised their security by identifying the venue for their planning meetings. It alleges that the web article “had put at risk all who use the premises” (owned and run by Newcastle Trades Council). That Newcastle Unite Against Fascism publicly advertises the trades council building as its address shows the speciousness of this complaint, and should not obscure the real reason for Newcastle Unites’ secrecy: to keep out militant ant-racists and anti-fascists.
Newcastle Unites portrays RCG/FRFI as committed to violent disorder in order to obscure real political differences, in particular our opposition to the Labour Party as a racist, imperialist, anti-working class party. This claim was then used by Newcastle Unites organisers to get the police to stop us from joining the demonstration on May 25 regardless of the consequences. Its statement says we were excluded from its planning meetings “on account of [our] previous disruptive and sometimes violent activities”, continuing: “… the group tried to storm the Newcastle May Day platform in 2012 in an attempt to prevent a local Labour MP speaking, in the process physically assaulting a number of trades council members.”
This is a fabrication. Yes, we heckled an MP, Grahame Morris. Heckling is part of working class democracy. Morris supported Britain’s onslaught on Libya, which left 60,000 dead, and we had every right to oppose him. But there was no violent attack, no attempt to storm the platform. Indeed the May Day organising committee, which includes Newcastle TUC secretary Jim Simpkin, a prominent supporter of Newcastle Unites, knows this: they agreed to allow us a stall at their 2013 May Day event. There was no accusation then about an alleged assault - it is a retrospective smear to deal with a political challenge today.
The statement claims that RCG/FRFI has targeted “local Muslim activists with slanders and insults”. It can provide no evidence of this because it is a lie. It says we called Dipu Ahad, described as “a prominent Muslim Labour councillor”, a “racist”. That is also a lie. It says we cause “real distress to many in the local Muslim community”. What nonsense! We have quite properly denounced councillor Ahad for the fact that he voted for £100 million council cuts this year - an action which represents a massive attack on the Newcastle working class and which will certainly cause the Muslim community “real distress”. His support for these cuts does not seem to bother his Newcastle Unites allies, the SWP or the Newcastle trade union bureaucrats, whose members have lost their jobs as a result. And he is the only person to have insulted any part of the Muslim community, writing after a counter-protest to the EDL in March this year that “The police did a fantastic job ... I’m also concerned about some of our Asian youths who get excited and also want to cause trouble for the sake of it and have no respect for the police!”
The principal purpose of Newcastle Unites’ statement is to deny it collaborated with the police. It says Newcastle Unites condemns “without qualification, the arrest of anyone for exercising their democratic right to peaceful protest”. This means nothing, since they allege that RCG/FRFI is committed to violence. It says that “to claim that we would collude in any way with such arrests is an offensive and wholly unfounded allegation”. So here is some of the evidence to the contrary.
On May 7, after SWP district organiser Yunus Bakhsh threatened a female FRFI supporter as she tried to attend a Newcastle Unites planning meeting, Jim Simpkin manhandled her out of the building and told her: “Go away, little girl, or I’ll call the police.” Both are prominent Newcastle Unites supporters.
On May 15 an unsigned email from Newcastle Unites to FRFI North East said: “You will not be welcome and we shall take all necessary steps to ensure that you play no part of these activities.” On May 15 Dipu Ahad elaborated on this, posting on the Facebook event for the march a “special message from Newcastle Unites” which told us: “I assure you that you will be thrown out of the demo and the public meeting by our stewards who will be many. You will also be reported to the police for causing disorder!”
On May 23 Northumbria police emailed FRFI North East stating that Newcastle Unites had told them FRFI were not welcome on the march. Later that day, at a Newcastle Unites public meeting, police were on the door with a list of names and turned away anybody whose name was on the list. Who provided them with the list other than Newcastle Unites?
Hanif Leylabi, an SWP member and administrator of the Facebook event for the march, later admitted on Facebook that Dipu Ahad had told the police FRFI were not welcome at the meeting and claimed that, although SWP members disagreed with involving the police, “we weren’t about to make it a point of unity two days before the march”.
On the day of the march, FRFI supporters were leafleting and petitioning in the city centre prior to the march assembly time. When the police asked our comrades their intentions, they told them they were planning to join the Newcastle Unites demonstration. The police said initially that they had no problem with this, but later returned and said that the Newcastle Unites organisers had told them FRFI were not welcome. It was when our comrades stated that it was a public march and they proposed to join it that the police arrested them.
SWP members Nick Clark and Liam Anderson were present during the arrests. At one point while our comrades were being seized, Clark approached a police officer and told him not to arrest two women because they were “not part of that group” - ie, RCG/FRFI. The police officer listened to Clark and let the two women go.
During questioning, police presented the arrestees with a summary of the charges, which included a statement in writing that Newcastle Unites organisers had told the police that FRFI were not welcome on the march.
In the days leading up to the march, therefore, Newcastle Unites supporters threatened us with the use of the police, passed our names on to the police, worked with the police to prevent us joining the march, deliberately laid us open to police attack and worked alongside the police as we were arrested. Newcastle Unites has not refuted any of these specific allegations.
There is an urgent need to build a movement in Newcastle against racism and fascism. RCG/FRFI will be part of that, as it has been through its work over many years organising against deportations and immigration prisons in Tyneside Community Action against Racism and countless anti-fascist mobilisations. Three Newcastle Unites organisers attended a meeting of the Newcastle 14 Defence Campaign on June 4 to distribute their statement attacking us. They said they opposed the arrests, but intend to continue excluding us.
This is unacceptable. If Newcastle Unites organisers want to clear their names they can identify and expel those who colluded with the police, apologise for the lies they have spread against our comrades, end their policy of excluding committed anti-fascists from their events, and provide practical support to defend the Newcastle 14.
This isn’t just about RCG/FRFI or the SWP: this is about building an anti-fascist movement in Newcastle that is democratic, effective and defends all those attacked by racists and by the police.
Abuse and lies
Abuse and lies
Right to heckle
I wrote this letter over a week ago and I got no reply from one of your journalists. In the meantime, you print a letter from Newcastle Unites attacking FRFI (RCG) that is full of false allegations.
According to the Labour Party and SWP, the RCG/FRFI have dared to be openly critical of the Labour Party and SWP. What particularly offended Jim Simpkin, chairperson of Newcastle Unites, is that they heckled the Labour Party speaker last May Day, Graeme Morris, who voted for the atrocity of bombing Libya, resulting in the deaths of thousands of civilians.
My point of view as an independent communist is this. The FRFI activists had every right to heckle an imperialist spokesperson of the Labour Party. If the Labour Party and SWP do not want heckling, then allow communists to express their opinion of the Labour Party on its anti-working class austerity programme and imperialist ventures.
My comrades in Canada are keenly waiting your reply.
Right to heckle
Right to heckle
Next year we will suffer a dreadful avalanche of xenophobic and chauvinist nonsense about World War I. Of course, all of us can have nothing but pity for the slaughtered and maimed on both sides, but I felt that a couple of historical bits of evidence to counter some of this disgusting tide of nonsense in a letter to your weekly would be of use to everyone who reads it. And, as far as I know, just about everybody on the left does read it, for whatever reasons. I therefore hope any and all tendencies, not simply yourselves, will take advantage of these two little bits of freely available information.
The first is a little article in Labour Monthly: ‘Mr Austen Chamberlain on the origin of the war’ (March 1922, pp256-58). It is on the Marxist Internet Archive at http://bit.ly/118tnSG. It is very useful to cite if anyone mentions “gallant little Belgium”. We went to war for what were considered to be our ‘national interests’ - just like Germany. Some silly old Tories in the mother of parliaments found this difficult to take in 1922 and spluttered into silence. It is all there in Hansard.
The second piece of evidence is rather more eccentric from a leftwing point of view: Brian Pearce’s book, How Haig saved Lenin (London 1987). Pearce argues that Soviet Russia would have been doomed if the British offensive in August-November 1918 had not broken the power of the German army. I have not the slightest doubt that he is correct, but this generally strikes dumb any union jack-wavers and the less thoughtful of the would-be Bolsheviks. Neither of them had really thought of praising general Haig for that. It reminds me of something I read somewhere: “Men make their own history, but they do not make it just as they please; they do not make it under circumstances chosen by themselves, but under circumstances directly encountered, given and transmitted from the past. The tradition of all the dead generations weighs like a nightmare on the brain of the living.”
Brian Pearce was a splendid and dedicated Trotskyist and excellent translator from the Russian. We all need as many arguments as we can for next year and a little bit of humour seldom goes amiss with some of those we shall be arguing against.
The proposal for a ‘broad party’ confuses ‘party’ with ‘movement’ (‘To get out of the gutter, begin by looking up at the stars’, June 6).
A ‘broad party’, including reformists, centrists, etc, will necessarily be an electoral party - ie, a second Labour Party. The Bolsheviks ran candidates in the duma elections, but their focus was not getting the Bolsheviks into office to reform tsarism.
Marxists need to build broad movements. These movements will probably include reformists, centrists, etc. But movements are not parties. Movements as such need organisational forms, or they end up disappearing like Occupy. These organisational forms can be stewards’ councils, united fronts, people’s assemblies, soviets or all of the above.
We may even be able to coordinate actions with reformists and centrists ... without forming a ‘party’ with them. But we have to avoid gimmicks to build a quick big ‘McParty’. For example, in the 1940s Max Shachtman first proposed to build a “small mass party”. And then in the 1950s proposed entry into the US Socialist Party because - according to him, that was the party the masses would be joining when they first become radicalised. Dissolving the Independent Socialist League, he finally ended up on the extreme right of the social democracy.
We need to build a revolutionary party not ‘from above’ or ‘from below’. Instead there needs to be a dialectical unity. Workers today often have college degrees; they are not illiterate Russian peasants. We need to learn to speak to the new working class and listen to it.
It’s nice to see the term ‘party-movement’ gain traction in comrade Mike Macnair’s article (‘Lessons of May 68’, June 6).
It’s also better to read into the situation that France did not really have a revolutionary situation in May 1968 and, at best, prospects for mere regime change. Yes, there was mass hostility between the state and the workers, not least because of the absence of a pressure-value to address falling real wages, and there was a collapse in confidence of the ruling political institutions, but there was no majority political support for a mass party-movement within the French working class. This was demonstrated, first, by the lack of an upward explosion in the PCF’s membership and, second, by its inability to cash in electorally, even for the protest votes at the time.
The solution for May 1968 would have been something like the July days, not 1905. A mass party-movement would still have told workers to end the wildcat strikes and get back to work. However, it would have accepted that half of de Gaulle’s offer which didn’t involve quick elections. Furthermore, during and after this whole situation, said party-movement would have conducted a massive membership recruitment drive (not of the SWP kind, of course), since a voting membership is a much stronger indicator of political support.
I strongly disagree that Socialist Worker was “crass” in dancing on Thatcher’s coffin (‘SWP: party council’, www.cpgb.org.uk/home/weekly-worker/online-only/swp-party-council). Uniquely among the left, they picked up the mood of the best elements of the working class. I say this in a non-sectarian spirit, because I’m in the Association of Musical Marxists and very involved with the opposition and International Socialist Network.
I would also like to comment on a statement in the SWP’s perspectives document: “We side with Len McCluskey against the right.” This is strange, given the boasts elsewhere about supporting Jerry Hicks, who accuses McCluskey of being an overpaid fat arse sabotaging genuine rank-and-file party-building by union activists.
According to Tony Abse, Beppe Grillo’s characterisation of ‘L’Italia A’ and ‘L’Italia B’ is demagoguery (‘Grillo’s populism exposed’, June 6). However, the reasoning that followed was off the mark for two reasons.
First, ‘L’Italia B’ suggests the potential for class-collaboration between “the self-employed ... small and medium enterprises, students”, on the one hand, and “laid-off workers, precarious workers”, on the other. Beyond a political front, of course, this should be avoided.
Second, Abse could easily be interpreted as implying that public-sector employees and pensioners should be at the forefront of a workers’ movement. Of course, no-one on the left likes employment assaults on public-sector employees (except police and prison security), but isn’t it about time we had a bottom-up workers movement, instead of defending the more traditional, trickle-down workers’ movement? Whether called ‘freeters’ in Japan, ‘emergent service workers’ in the UK, or the ‘precariat’ everywhere outside the distortions of British sociology, it is high-time this stratum of the working class and related public policy demands take the centre stage and front seats in a reforged workers’ movement.
Speaking as someone who has been beaten and arrested four times for participating in successive Moscow Gay Pride parades, from 2007 to 2011, I believe the new law passed in Russia is one of the harshest against gay freedom of expression anywhere in the world. It is symptomatic of president Vladimir Putin’s increasing authoritarianism and his crackdown on civil society. It violates the Russian constitution, which guarantees freedom of expression, and the European Convention on Human Rights, which Russia has signed and pledged to uphold.
Although the law is ostensibly aimed at prohibiting the dissemination of so-called ‘gay propaganda’ to young persons under 18, in reality it will criminalise any public advocacy of gay equality or same-sex HIV education, where a young person could potentially see it. In practice, gay marches, festivals, posters, magazines, books, welfare advice and safer sex education will be at risk of criminal prosecution.
It is a blanket censorship of any public expression of same-sex love or gay human rights. This is likely to result in the purging of many books, films and plays from libraries, schools, theatres and cinemas, including many classic works of art and literature.
It is well known that Lenin devoured the press of his day. He read everything. Not only the bourgeois papers, but in particular the entire gamut of the left press. He read the Mensheviks, the Socialist Revolutionaries, the ‘left’ Communists, the Bund and, of course, the Bolsheviks too.
And yet today’s left is increasable insular. Often comrades doggedly, fearfully stick to their own group’s paper. The result is a million miles from Leninism. Much of the left consists of ineffectual - and boring - confessional sects.
The purpose of Socialist Worker, The Socialist, Socialist Appeal, etc, is not to engage with the world. Certainly not to engage with the world of the left. No wonder so-called ordinary people don’t buy them. Why should they? In effect they are advertising sheets with all the interest of Auto Trader (which at least has the virtue of being useful if you want to upgrade your car).
Too much of the left press exists in a suffocating bubble. The articles are written not to inform, not to educate, but to hand down the ‘line’. A line which the devotee is expected to repeat whenever they appear in public. If you fail to do this then there is trouble. The full-timer, the district committee member, the branch secretary will have a ‘quiet word’. Failing that, there the is the door marked ‘exit’.
At least that has been my experience.
If we are ever to achieve socialism there has to be a whole mass of thinking, critical, engaged men and women. In other words, we must develop cadres. That is why, for all its faults, I like the Weekly Worker. True, its coverage of trade union politics is near non-existent and its focus is very narrow. But at least you don’t treat us as idiots waiting for the latest anti-capitalist ‘initiative’ or broad party wheeze.