Labour Against the Witchhunt and Labour-in-Exile-Network Vote to Merge into a Single Organisation
A Single Anti-Witchhunt Organisation Committed to Build Shadow CLPs Can Only Strengthen the Fight Against Starmer
Last Friday night members of Labour-in-Exile-Network voted by 31-8 to merge with Labour Against the Witchhunt. The following night LAW, at its first All Members Meeting for 3 months also voted to support a merger, albeit by a narrower but decisive majority of 47-27 with 12 abstentions.
Members of both organisations voted to form a single organisation dedicated not only to fighting the witchhunt but to campaign on a broader basis. We have an NHS that is being privatised, a Police Bill which is a massive encroachment on civil liberties, a Nationality and Immigration Bill which will result in more deaths in the Channel. The idea that the only game in the town is the Witchhunt is an obsession. Starmer has just given a speech to Labour Friends of Israel saying that the Israel of pogroms against Palestinians is a ‘rumbustious democracy’.
It is unfortunate that the majority of the LAW Steering Committee, having lost the argument and the vote have resigned rather than accepting the view of LAW members. Their argument is summed up in this week’s Weekly Worker that we are ‘Deserting the Fight’. No comrades we are refusing to allow the fight against Starmer and his neo-liberal politics to be confined to simply machinations in the Labour Party.
Motion 1 in favour of the merger was passed with one amendment. The second motion, opposing the merger, moved by supporters of Labour Party Marxism therefore fell automatically.
At a time when thousands of Labour Party members are either under ‘investigation’, suspended or expelled, it makes obvious sense that two organisations that agree on all the fundamental questions facing socialists, inside and outside the Labour Party, should merge. The Left has been historically weakened because of unnecessary splits over minor points of theological doctrine.
2019 Fringe Meeting with Ken Livingstone, Jackie Walker, Alexei Sayle and Chris Williamson
Opponents of the merger, primarily Labour Party Marxism argued that there is still much work to be done fighting the witchhunt. That is true but conditions have changed massively since the Corbyn witchhunt began in 2016. This point was made eloquently in an introductory speech by Graham Bash, the recently expelled Political Officer of Jewish Voices for Labour and someone who was a member of Labour for 53 years.
Graham emphasised that the scale and reach of Starmer’s witchhunt is bigger than anything that the Labour Party has ever experienced in its history. Previously particular groups like Militant were targeted. Now it is anyone on the socialist left who speaks out against the leadership. People like Pamela Fitzpatrick of CLPD, a well respected local councillor in Harrow, the recipient of abuse by right-wing trolls, has been expelled whilst her abusers have got off scot-free. The suspension of a previous Labour Party leader, Jeremy Corbyn, is itself unprecedented.
When nearly all the Left capitulated to the false ‘anti-Semitism’ attacks LAW was virtually alone in standing up to the Zionists and and people like Margaret Hodge. We organised pickets of the disciplinary hearings of Marc Wadsworth and Jackie Walker, organised well-attended fringe meetings at Labour Party Conference and gave support to Ken Livingstone, Chris Williamson and others.
We also led, with JVL, the campaign against the adoption by the Labour Party of the IHRA misdefinition of anti-Semitism with a large picket of the NEC meeting in September 2019 which adopted the IHRA. We warned then that far from putting the ‘anti-Semitism’ attacks to bed they would increase in volume.
Unfortunately Corbyn and Jennie Formby chose not to listen to us and they embarked on a policy of appeasement of the Right. At meeting after meeting I repeated the same message that the expulsion of Jackie, Marc and myself was not about us – we were collateral damage – the real target was Corbyn himself. That should be clear even to the most venal and stupid member of Momentum, even to Jon Lansman, now that Corbyn himself has lost the Whip.
The throwing under the bus of Chris Williamson, Ken Livingstone and many others like Pete Willsman and Christine Shawcroft, simply whetted the appetite of Margaret Hodge and the JLM. When Corbyn opposed Open Selection he signed his own death warrant. When he and Formby proposed ‘fast track’ expulsions they laid the basis for Starmer’s purge and Corbyn’s own suspension.
But the opponents of merging the two organisations wanted people to believe that LAW today is the same as it was 2-3 years ago. That simply is not true. In the past 6 months LAW has done relatively little other than with LIEN. On LAW’s own website there is no activity registered since the Resist at the Rialto in late September. The fact is that there is next to nothing we can do to fight the witchhunt inside the Labour Party because there is no democracy left.
On July 20th LAW and LIEN organised the well attended picket of Labour’s NEC at Southside and during the Labour Party conference we organised a whole series of alternative events at the Resist at the Rialto in Brighton. It makes sense to merge into one group.
You only need to look at the Wikipedia entry for LAW. It lists a whole series of our activities but stops in May 2019. The reality is that LAW has been on a life support system for the past two years. Before the last AGM membership had plummeted by one-third. Ironically the only thing that restored LAW’s previous membership was Starmer/Evans decision to proscribe LAW!
The Steering Committee which has met fitfully in recent months has failed to involve members in its work or bring them aboard. There are no separate working groups or strands. Members are just passive observers. LAW is not the campaign it was when we had regular monthly All Members Meeting. Members of the Labour Party are reluctant even to be seen on pickets or demonstrations when that will be taken as support for LAW and instant expulsion.
‘democracy is dead in the labour party…this is a political vacuum, this is the biggest challenge to the left in my lifetime, we do need a new political movement, across the whole left, inside the Labour Party and outside, it’s got to be ready to become a party when the time is right…. Otherwise we fragment. People are leaving and we will fragment. At this critical moment when you have this mass of people just driven out of the party where are they going to go? If we miss this opportunity it is a very black outlook.’
What then were the arguments of opponents of the merger? LPM has always taken the position that there is nothing in between the Labour Party, a bourgeois workers party in their eyes, and a revolutionary Marxist Party. All or nothing and they get nothing.
The CPGB didn’t always take this position having participated first in the Socialist Alliance, Respect and Left Unity. The CPGB/LPM have never explained the change in their tactics from opposition to ‘autolabourism’ to a devotion to labourism! In 1997 they refused to support a vote for Labour at the General Election. Now they damn anyone who even thinks of standing against Labour!
Ironically the first person to propose a merger wasn’t me but Tina Werkmann. I urged caution! At the LAW AMM on July 24 a motion ‘to explore the merging of LAW and LIEN’ was passed. Moved by Tina it read:
This meeting believes that:
4. Unity is strength. While there are obvious political differences in the history of both groups, the composition of both memberships and some campaigning priorities, we believe that both groups have enough in common politically to justify a possible merger.
5. Such a merger would send out a strong signal to many of those who are feeling disheartened and politically disoriented by the current trajectory of the Labour Party.
6. It might encourage more people and groups to join our merged organisation.
This meeting therefore resolves to start exploring a merger process between both organisations…
At a joint LLA, LAW and LIEN members and supporters meeting on October 14 Paragraph 6 of a motion Bringing the Left together moved by Tina was identically worded to Para. 4 above! Para. 7 of the same motion was almost identically worded to Para. 5 above.
A number of other amendments moved by Roger Silverman, Diana Isserlis and myself made Tina’s motion even more explicit.
For reasons that are not clear, Tina reversed her position and put out a paper Why a merger between Labour Against the Witchhunt and Labour In Exile Network is a bad idea Tina wrote:
There are a number of reasons why I personally oppose a merger at this moment in time, despite the fact that I initially proposed ‘exploring a merger’ between the groups. Yes, unity is strength, but this unity has to have a serious political purpose if it is to be effective. 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.
But Tina knew back in July and October that neither LIEN nor LAW were revolutionary Marxists. What changed? A clue can be found in the accusation that the LIEN Steering Committee lacked ‘political incoherence.’ This incoherence ‘reflects the fact that the organisation has no clear political programme.’ Well neither LIEN nor LAW has such a programme. The point is to develop a program of ideas. 4 months ago that wasn’t a problem. Why now?
I understand why LPM oppose a a merger. They consider that they, all 30 or so of them, are that organisation. In a motion to the LAW Steering Committee of 9th November Stan Keable proposed:
to withdraw from the recent joint meetings with the steering committees of Labour in Exile Network and Labour Left Alliance, and to end LAW’s participation in joint all members and supporters meetings.
The joint steering committee meetings, while nominally favouring continuing the struggle in the Labour Party, have in fact been dominated by proposals to orientate away from Labour, to give up on the struggle within Labour, and to attempt to create an alternative movement or party based on the failed politics of Corbynism, aiming to keep together the thousands of disillusioned comrades at all costs. … we believe such a project will only add to the widespread demoralization and disorientation of the Labour left that already exists.
The LPM motion to the LAW All Members Meeting meeting of 27th November LPM stated that:
We reject the proposed merger of LAW with the Labour in Exile Network, which we believe would effectively liquidate LAW and add to the widespread demoralization and disorientation of the Labour left that already exists.
LPM have always had a consistent policy, at least since the election of Jeremy Corbyn, that they reject the formation of any broad socialist group outside the Labour Party. Especially with those who espouse ‘the failed politics of Corbynism.’
Instead I was belaboured with the fact that I was in a minority of 1 on the LAW Steering Committee in favouring a merger. However the meeting on Saturday wasn’t particularly impressed either by Tina’s change of heart or LPM’s implacable opposition to anything smacking of what they call a Labour Party Mark 2.
What I didn’t expect was the bad faith reaction of both LPM and Tina to reject a democratic decision of LAW members and simply resign and refuse to implement the decision. On the LAW Steering Committee Whatsapp group Tina posted:
This feels very much like a hostile takeover and the only outcome is that it will close down LAW. Pretty shitty outcome.
On the LAW Facebook page Tina declared that the proposal to merge was a ‘Hostile takeover, really. Not sure it serves any purpose apart from closing down LAW.’ To which I responded that:
‘The Steering Committee opposed the merger. The members voted for it. Yes the members have taken LAW over as they realise it was going nowhere fast. Labour Party Marxists wanted to preserve LAW in aspic as a trophy that does very little.
You remind me of Bertold Brecht’s satirical poem “Die Lösung” (The Solution) in which he portrays the East German communists, after crushing the 1953 German Workers Uprising of wanting to abolish the people and start again
Leaving aside the fact that Tina herself was proposing what she now calls a ‘hostile takeover’ this is unbelievably arrogant. LAW’s Steering Committee was clearly unrepresentative of the membership. It is the members who have taken it over. This reaction is similar to the reaction of the Labour Right in 2015 to the ‘hostile takeover’ of the Labour Party by the Corbynistas!
This is the language of a Board of Directors of a company to a takeover bid by some venture capitalist. It demonstrates a contempt for democracy. Instead of asking why, repeatedly, I have been in a minority on the Steering Committee yet not at All Members Meetings, Tina blames the members! Bertold Brecht captured this brilliantly in his poem The Solution.
It is often said that whatever their political differences, Trotskyist and Stalinist groups often have a very similar attitude to democracy. One only has to look at the SWP with its self-perpetuating leadership.
The reality is that socialists and socialism are being driven out of the Labour Party by Starmer – all in the name of fighting anti-Semitism! The opponents of the merger, instead of accepting that they were defeated, are now trying to make the creation of a unified organisation that much more difficult. The only people to gain from their actions will be Starmer and co. I would therefore appeal to them to pull back.
The creation of a unified organisation is not the ‘liquidation’ nor the closing down of LAW. There is nothing LAW could have done that it can’t do in a merged organisation. LIEN is obviously committed to fighting the witchhunt and always has been.
LIEN already has a Witchhunt Analysis Group amongst 7 other groups. LIEN is already far more active over the witchhunt than LAW. There is obvious room for an 8th Anti-Witchhunt group.
At a time when Starmer has declared to the Labour Friends of Israel that the Israeli Military State is a rumbustious democracy, what is needed is a little more respect for democracy in our own ranks!
Well done Tony for leading this unity measuer in the face of bitter ultra left opposition. We can now move forward, in unity and turn outwards, working with those who been excluded from the LP.