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Momentum, UNITE and Labour: an Activist Comments.

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A ‘New Kind of Politics’? 

Unite statement on Tom Watson MP’s claims on Momentum and Unite

20 March 2017

Responding to the claims made today (Monday 20 March) in the national media by Tom Watson MP, deputy leader of the Labour party, Unite’s acting general secretary Gail Cartmail said: “Tom Watson has made claims about Unite and its general secretary Len McCluskey which are entirely inaccurate.

“As Unite has made it clear it is exclusively for our executive council to determine which organisations we affiliate to. There are no plans for Unite to affiliate to Momentum. For the record, Len McCluskey has never met Jon Lansman to discuss this or any other matter.

“It is extraordinary that the deputy leader of the Labour party should  interfere in Unite’s democracy in this way, and it is very disappointing that he was allowed to make his unsupported claims without being challenged, and that the BBC ignored the Unite statement with which it had been provided well in advance.

“Mr Watson’s latest, and misguided, campaign is part of an unprecedented pattern of interference in the current Unite general secretary election by elected Labour politicians who should, frankly, be concentrating on their own responsibilities.

“Mr Watson is a Unite member with a right to a vote and a view. But he should remember that, first, he is deputy leader of the Labour party with the obligations that this senior post imposes, and second that Unite is not a subsidiary of any political organisation.”

Unite has complained to the BBC Radio 4 Today programme that the statement the union provided in good faith last night was only used in part and following representations from the union this morning. The union has also complained that Mr Watson was allowed to make his extraordinary claims about Unite and its general secretary without being subject to any demand for evidence.

This is in response to reports, such as this one, in the media. (Guardian).

Momentum’s Jon Lansman has hit back after fierce criticism by Labour MPs of his intention to affiliate trade union Unite to his grassroots group as a way to consolidate its power in the party.

The plans for Momentum to affiliate the UK’s biggest union and take full control of Labour’s structures by electing new representatives were described as “entryism” by the party’s deputy leader, Tom Watson, and were revealed after Lansman was secretly recorded speaking at a Momentum branch meeting in Richmond, south-west London.

In the recording, the chair of Momentum said the affiliation would require Unite’s general secretary, Len McCluskey, to win his re-election battle against rival Gerard Coyne

….

A new constitution drawn up by Lansman last year made it clear that activists must be members of the Labour party in order to participate in Momentum, but in the recording, he suggested the restriction would not be enforced.

“It was important to require Labour party membership in the rules but it is down to enforcement. No one from the centre is going to tell you to kick people out,” he tells the meeting.

Watson tweeted Lansman on Sunday night, saying the recording was “very clear” in what it meant. “You’ve revealed your plan. If you succeed, you will destroy the Labour party as an electoral force. So you have to be stopped.”

Lansman replied: “We won’t allow non Lab members to hold office or vote (unlike Coop party or Fabians) but we won’t exclude them from activities/meetings. For 20 years the left was denied a voice. We will deny a voice to no one. We face big challenges, & we need our mass membership to win again.”

Poor old Suzanne Moore, no doubt wishing she were back in happier days ‘punting’ in the river Orwell,  has wadded in, waving her pole in all directions.

A secret recording reveals that even Momentum has given up on Corbyn. Does anyone inside Labour have any idea how ludicrous this all looks?

The insanity of a leader unsupported by his MPs, falling desperately in the polls, inert over Brexit, has the party simply waiting to lose for the reckoning to begin.

The issues raised have now come to the ears of Ken Livingstone (Guardian)

Ken Livingstone tells Labour: don’t lose Momentum party plans

Ex-London mayor says he finds it ‘bizarre’ MPs have issue over changes that would allow leftwing candidate to stand as leader

Ken Livingstone, the former Labour mayor of London, has said the grassroots group Momentum should be free to push for changes to Labour party structures that would secure Jeremy Corbyn’s legacy as a leftwing Labour leader.

The party’s deputy leader, Tom Watson, had accused the radical left group of “entryism” after its chair, Jon Lansman, was secretly recorded at a local meeting describing plans to elect a raft of leftwing candidates to key positions and his hope to seal an affiliation from trade union Unite.

A day of public accusation and backroom briefing by Watson and Corbyn allies ended in a fiery private meeting of MPs and peers on Monday night in parliament, where MPs clashed with Corbyn over Momentum’s influence on the party.

The tension hinges on a clause that Corbyn allies hope to secure at the next Labour party conference, to reduce the threshold of MP nominations needed for the next Labour leadership elections from 15% of MPs to 5%, which would make it easier for a leftwing successor to Corbyn to make it on to the ballot paper sent to members.

Comment.

Ken Livingstone’s comments are well aimed: the rule change under fire is a reasonable one.

UNITE is right complain about Tom Watson’s comments.

It is both hard to believe that he is unaware of the way they would be used in the union’s internal elections, and that he does not know that UNITE’s Executive is the body to which such a decision – which the union itself says is not on the cards – has to be referred.

But the “aspirational” claims by Jon Lansman, that UNITE should affiliate to Momentum, remain contentious.

It can hardly escape anybody interested – perhaps a declining number – in Momentum that the organisation has serious internal disputes, which led to the holding of the recent  ‘Grassroots Momentum’ Conference.

It would be too simple to describe this as a clash between leftist ‘factions’ and those around Jon Lansman. One day somebody may provide a diagram of the disagreements, in 7 dimensions.

This, apparently, escapes the attention of an enthusiast, Comrade Ladin who writes of its success within Labour, “Momentum’s strategy of mobilising members within these structures is undoubtedly the winning one” (Guardian. 20.3.16.7)

Others may point to internal critics’ comments which blow away the idea that this is a head-on battle between the Labour Right (Watson at the head) and Momentum.

As Stephen Wood in The Clarion remarks of the presentation of Momentum as a

….broadly consensual organisation where we “focus on what we agree about.”

The fundamental flaw is that while he is right that most of what was passed at the Grassroots Momentum conference and in fact even argued by his opponents on the Momentum Steering Committee he may actually have agreed to, he was absolutely against and stopped action being taken. Half-hearted support for the Picturehouse Workers Strike, a statement about suspensions and expulsions which has still never materialised were all agreed at what he described as “deeply unpleasant” SC meetings.

It would be easy to continue in this vein, and discuss the internal divisions of Momentum.

One thing is certain (at the risk of sounding the voice of ‘reasonableness’, but this is very much the case)  that  this is not a matter of  virtue , the leadership, and faults, “trots and the hard-left”.

Problems are not confined to one ‘camp’ or the other.

It is also the case that UNITE members who are active in the Labour Party, including those with positions of responsibility, are far from agreed on the merits of Momentum, whether on its general strategy, or the details of its demands.

UNITE is a “political union” that sees the best way of pursuing the interests of its membership lie in the Labour Party, above all a Labour Party in office.

Now would seem not a good time to divert attention away to other power struggles.

 

Written by Andrew Coates

March 21, 2017 at 1:58 pm

Emmanuel Macron: in the “battlefield” against Populists in French Presidential Elections?

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After the Dutch election, national populism is said to have another chance to make an impact in Europe in the French Presidential contest at the end of April (first round). Wilders may have been seen off in Holland but Marine Le Pen, who claims to promote the French “people” (in jobs, ‘priorité nationale’) against uncontrolled “mondialisation” (globalisation) the “elites” of the European Union. She leads the polls, with majority backing in the manual and administrative working class. The Front National’s chances may have been increased by the scandals that have all but wiped out the hopes of victory of Les Republicans’ candidate, François Fillon. It is claimed that many of the once favoured right-wing party’s supporters, feeling that their man has been the victim of a judges’ plot, filled with spite, and underlying affinity, could vote for the Front National in the decisive second round.

For some on the left of centre the candidacy of Emmanuel Macron, a liberal, economically and socially, centrist, “progressive” even a ““centrist populist” now represents the most effective riposte to the far right. A sizable chunk of the Parti Socialiste (PS) right and socially liberal personalities in the wider left orbit, have smiled on his candidacy. Polls suggest he may come close to Le Pen in the April ballot, and, with transfers from all sides of the political spectrum, though notably from left supporters, could win the two-horse play off in May.

A Bulwark against National Populism?

For some commentators Macron could be at the crest of a wave of modernising politics that may be able not just to defeat Marine le Pen but set an example to others on how to overwhelm nationalist populism. For others it could pave the way for an international renewal of the centre, or the ‘centre left’, including the one time dominant modernisers inside social democratic parties This has resonance in Britain, where Liberal Democrats gush admiration, former Social Democratic Party stalwart,  Polly Toynbee has fully endorsed him as a bulwark against Marine Le Pen, disappointed Labour leadership candidate, Liz Kendall is said to admire Macron, as has former Europe Minister Denis MacShane, who sees him as standing up to Euroscepticism, and would no doubt enlist him in the battle to rehabilitate Tony Blair’s record in government.

It is tempting to think of, or to dismiss, Macron as a political entrepreneur, a “personality”, the creator of a “start up”, a political firm (Candidate Macron Jeremy Harding. London Review of Books. 15.3.17). Others have concentrated on attacking his “empty words” (discours creux), and efforts to appeal to all, strongly criticising French colonialism, while offering a dialogue with the ultra-conservatives of ‘Sens commun’, if not further right.

These, together with an elitist education and high-powered insider employment (from the heights of the State to Banking) are important facets of Macron’s character, and his present politics revolved around that personality. But this is to ignore the reasons why this candidacy is unsettling the Parti Socialiste. The former Minister of the Economy (2014 – 2016) under PS Premier Manuel Valls, with, from time to time, most clearly from 2006 – 2009, membership of the Socialists, he was marked out for the economic side of his “social liberalism”. Macron promoted the maximum loosening of labour protection in the El Khomri  labour law, and advanced his own proposals for wider economic reform.

A Tool Against Hamon.

The left outside of France was more interested in Socialist Party critics of the El Khomri law, the “frondeurs” for whom this summed up their dissatisfaction with Manuel Valls and François Hollande’s market reform and fiscal policies. But Macron could be said to be embody the breakaway of the opposite side of the “synthesis” that held the government together between the Prime Minister’s authoritarian modernisation and those with socialist and social democratic values. In this sense En marche! is a handy tool against the present candidate of the Parti Socialiste, Benoît Hamon, the left-wing ‘frondeur’ now representing the Party, with the support of the Greens, EELV and the small, but traditional ally of the Socialists, the Parti Radical de gauche.

The development of Marcon’s campaign bears looking at through this angle. Briefly, in 2016, Macron wished the outgoing President, François Hollande, to stand again. Perhaps heeding Valls’ own judgement that the divisions within the Left, including those inside his own party, were “irreconcilable” he founded his movement En marche! in April that year, as his personal ambition – were it possible – became more assertive, he was obliged to leave the government in the summer.

It is at this point that a programme publicly emerged. Relying on the authority of an economist he has now revived the deregulating, “working with grain of globalisation” “skills and competitiveness” economics of the 1990s centre left. In this vein the central elements of the electoral platform of En marche!, his “contract with France” (Retrouver notre esprit de conquête pour bâtir une france nouvelle) calls to “Libérer le travail et l’esprit d’entreprise” by lowering social charges and doing away with obsolete regulation. His priorities, if in power, are, he has announced to Der Spiegel, (March 17th)

Three major reforms: The labor market must be opened, we need improved vocational training programs and the school system needs to support equal opportunity again.

For Europe.

France must restore its credibility by reforming the labour market and getting serious about its budget.

(and, this precondition fulfilled…)

Much deeper integration within the eurozone.

Just beneath the surface language, which evokes a meld of promoting a “core” Europe (negotiated after a ‘hard Brexit“….)  and French patriotic feelings it’s not hard to discover the economic liberalism that Marcel Gauchet has described as fixing the limits of what is politically possible (Comprendre le malheur français 2016). Macron’s core proposals could be said to be an internalisation of the reduction of state action to the needs of economic actors.

This is more than the traditional call to cut red tape. It is for a shake up of labour laws that El Khomri only began. The dream of much of French business, right-wing politicians, and pundits, but some on the PS right is apparently now possible because, Macron believes, we are in “extraordinary times”  The wish that France could follow other European countries and make a clean sweep of all the laws and protections that ‘burden’ the land’s labour market, and revive the dream of ‘flexibility’ to meet the global challenge, had found its voice again. Perhaps it is no coincidence that a large section of the programme entitled “a State that Protects” is not devoted to welfare but to giving people a sense of security through the protection of the Police and Security services.

Beyond this constituency is Macron a newly minted saviour for the centre? He declares his movement, “transpartisan”. As Thomas Guénolé, author of the witty, Petit Guide du Mensonge en Politique (A Brief Guide to Political Lies. 2014) points out in Le Monde, his “révolution par le centre” bears comparison with former President Valéry Giscard d’Estaing’s “advanced liberalism” in the 1970s (Le macronisme est un nouveau giscardisme. 16.3.17). They have a shared admiration for the Swedish social model, hard, then as now, to translate in French terms, an identical privileged background, and support for social and economic liberalisation against socialism or, today, ‘collectivism’.

It is difficult to see how this brand of “reformism” will marry welfare, and liberal economics. How “progressive” politics will deal with mass unemployment and the problems of the banlieue that successive modernising French governments of the right and left over last four decades have not resolved remains to be seen. Holding hands across the French social and political divide is unlikely to be the answer.

All Have Won, All Must Have Prizes!

The telegenic Macron would no doubt wish to begin the Presidency, transcending “party lines”,  by announcing, “The Race is over! Everybody has won and all must have prizes! But who will award the trophies? What other forces will there be to do the job in the National Assembly, whose election takes place immediately afterwards and which forms the basis of a President’s Cabinet?

The scramble to secure government posts and positions on Macron’s hypothetical list of candidates for the Legislative elections, is accompanied by the refusal of former Socialist Prime Minister Manuel Valls (despite his own record of less than easy relations with the leader of En marche!) to back his own party’s candidate Benoît Hamon.

Longer-standing political facts intervene at this point. While this hastily formed ‘trans-party’ may well get some candidates elected it is unlikely to win a majority in Parliament. As Guénolé points out, in order to establish his power properly Giscard had made a choice to ally with the right, the Gaullist party. Macron, while enjoying the backing of well-known individuals and small groups like the present incarnation of Giscardianism headed by François Bayrou and his MoDems, has yet to choose between an alliance with the real players: Les Républicans (LR) or the Parti Socialiste.

Either choice carries risks. The former agreement could end like that of the British Liberal Democrats and the Conservatives, alienating liberal opinion. The latter would run up against the left, including not just the Hamon wing of the Socialists but those further to his left.

We might ask if, and it remains an if, Macron becomes President, if the results of his programme, which subordinate politics to the economy, would really mean in the words of his programme, that everybody would be have more control over their own destiny and that people would be able to live better together (‘chacun maîtrise davantage son destin et que nous vivions tous mieux ensemble‘) Standing against this possible future two left candidates, Hamon and Jean-Luc Mélenchon, both in their different ways, offer to put economics in the service of politics. But that needs a further analysis…..

See also this,  French presidential candidate Emmanuel Macron’s ‘anti-system’ angle is a sham 

Latest Opinion Polls.

Présidentielle: Le Pen et Macron au coude-à-coude, Fillon distancé 

Yasmin Rehman wins secularist of the year award.

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Yasmin Rehman: Secularist of the Year.

A courageous campaigner for human rights against religious intolerance Rehman’s award should be widely welcomed.

It is fitting that she chose her acceptance speech to commend two “personal heroines” comrades Maryman Namazie and Gita Sahgal, who like herself have had to face the hostility of obscurantist bigotry, sexism and ill-judged criticism from some quarters.

It is time that all the left stands with these women.

Yasmin Rehman named Secularist of the Year 2017 (National Secular Society).

The Irwin Prize for Secularist of the Year 2017 has been awarded to Yasmin Rehman, the secular campaigner for women’s rights.

Yasmin has spent much of the past two years to get the Government to recognise the dangers faced by ex-Muslims and Ahmadi Muslims from Islamic extremists. She has used her own home as a shelter for women at risk of domestic abuse.

Accepting the prize, Yasmin Rehman thanked the Society for recognising her work and said she was “incredibly humbled” to be nominated among other figures who were “personal heroines.”

She said there were two women, Maryman Namazie and Gita Sahgal, whom she couldn’t have campaigned without, and that she was “honoured” to stand beside them.

Secularism was not opposed to faith, she said, before describing how she had been shut down as ‘Islamophobic’ and “racist” despite being a Muslim herself. There is anti-Muslim sentiment in society, she said, but ‘Islamophobia’ was being used to silence and curtail speech.

Yasmin said she didn’t know if she could ever go back to Pakistan because of her work in the UK, while in the UK it was “impossible” to get funding for secularist work. She asked where women could possibly turn if they faced religiously-justified abuse. Muslim women were left with nothing but religious, sharia arbitration, while faith healing was spreading, with ill women being controlled by male relatives and religious leaders and told to pray instead of seeking medical treatment.

FGM and honour-based violence were being dismissed as “cultural”, while in fact polygamist and temporary marriages were Islamic practises, she said. There is a slippery road from this to child marriage, and there should be “no space” in the UK for these practises.

“Great powers within the community” were holding women back, and low rates of Muslim female employment could not be attributed entirely to discrimination by employers.

Terry Sanderson, president of the National Secular Society, said: “I’m particularly pleased that this afternoon we have a secularist who is also a Muslim to present our prizes. She is living proof that secularism and Muslims can co-exist if given half a chance and co-founded British Muslims for Secular Democracy in 2006.”

Mr Sanderson described how secularism protected the rights of all and said it and democracy were “interdependent”.

Dr Michael Irwin kindly sponsored the £5,000 award. The award was presented by Yasmin Alibhai-Brown. She said: “The thing I find interesting and frightening at the moment is when I talk to young Muslims is how little they understand what secularism means.”

She said the Society’s most important work was in explaining what secularism meant for young people, particularly Muslims, and demonstrate that secularism was not atheism.

She warned of the growth of Muslim “exceptionalism” and that “universalism needs to be promoted.”

The Society was joined at the central London lunch event by previous winners of the prize including Maryam Namazie, who was the inaugural Secularist of the Year back in 2005. Peter Tatchell, who won the prize on 2012 also attended.

Turkish parliamentarian and 2014 Secularist of the Year Safak Pavey was unable to join the Society, but sent a message to attendees: “I wish I could be with you but we have the critical referendum approaching and we are very busy with the campaign. Each and every one of your shortlisted nominees is a very distinguished members of the secular society without borders.

“I wholeheartedly thank all of them for their courageous and precious contributions in defence and support of secularism and congratulate this year’s Secularist while looking forward to work together for our shared cause.”

Mr Sanderson praised her for working in “increasingly dangerous” circumstances to resist the Islamisation of Turkey.

Other campaigners were thanked for their work and Terry singled out Dr Steven Kettell, who was shortlisted for the prize, for his “excellent response” to the Commission on Religion and Belief in Public which had advocated expanding many religious privileges. Mr Sanderson thanked Dr Kettell for pointing out the many injustices that CORAB’s recommendations would have introduced, in his “excellent” report.

Scott Moore, the founder of Let Pupils Choose, was thanked for his campaign work. He said that, as an 18 year old, he had been campaigning for his entire adult life to separate religion and state, after religion was forced on him and taught as “absolute fact” during his childhood. He said the education system in Northern Ireland “robbed” pupils of their religious freedom. “All belief systems should be treated equally, but they are not.”

He was applauded for his hard-fought campaign work and Mr Sanderson said Moore gave him “hope for the future.”

Nominee Houzan Mahmoud spoke powerfully about the important of universal rights and freedoms.

Barry Duke, editor of the Freethinker, was given a lifetime achievement award for his commitment to free speech, LGBT rights and equality and resistance to censorship in apartheid South Africa.

The Society’s volunteer of the year was named, Sven Klinge, and thanked for the many occasions on which he has photographed NSS events.

Yasmin Rehman had been nominated, “for her advocacy of a secularist approach to tackling hate crime and promoting the human rights of women. She said, “I am incredibly honoured and humbled to be included in the list of nominees for this award particularly given the work being done across the world by so many brave and courageous people fighting against the hatred and violence being perpetrated by the religious Right of many faiths.”

Yasmin Rehman is a freelance consultant and doctoral candidate at the School of Oriental and African Studies. Her area of research is polygamy and the law. She has worked for more than 20 years predominantly on violence against women, race, faith and gender, and human rights. Yasmin has worked for Local Government, the Metropolitan Police Service as Director of Partnerships and Diversity (2004-08) during which time she also held the Deputy national lead for forced marriage and honour based violence. Yasmin has most recently been commissioned as founding CEO of a race equality charity in East London, followed by Transforming Rehabilitation bid and now reviewing police responses to domestic abuse for national charities. Yasmin is currently member of the Board of EVAW (End Violence Against Women Coalition), an Independent Adviser for City of London Police and a member of the Centre for Secular Space.

Written by Andrew Coates

March 18, 2017 at 5:15 pm

Pakistan Asks Facebook to Track Down ‘Blasphemers’.

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“Enemies of Humanity” Says Pakistan Interior Minister.

Radio Pakistan ‘reports’:

NISAR VOWS TO BLOCK  BLASPHEMOUS CONTENT ON SOCIAL MEDIA

Interior Minister asks Facebook administration to cooperate in removal and blocking of the blasphemous contents.

Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan says those responsible for blasphemy will be dealt with an iron hand.

Talking to media after inaugurating citizen facilitation center in Islamabad on Thursday, he said the culprits of blasphemy are enemies of humanity.He said that we have asked Facebook administration to cooperate in removal and blocking of the blasphemous contents.

 The Interior Minister said that government is making all out efforts to block blasphemous material on social media. He said eleven people who commented on such posts are being interrogated.

He urged all Muslims countries to practice unity against sordid conspiracies against Islam as the matter of blasphemy hurts feelings of all Muslims.

He said the government will take strict action against blasphemous contents and will avail all the possible options.

The Minister said that cooperation from the US Administration is also being sought through US embassy in Pakistan in this regard.

He urged the international community to have immense consultations on the issue of blasphemy as it has become a critical matter for the world.

He said ridiculing a religion in the name of freedom of expression will not be allowed

Al Jazeera reports,

Islamabad, Pakistan – Pakistani authorities have contacted social media website Facebook for help in investigating the posting of “blasphemous content” on the platform by Pakistanis, according to a statement.

Blasphemy is an extremely sensitive issue in Pakistan. Insulting the Prophet Muhammad carries a judicial death sentence and, increasingly commonly, the threat of extrajudicial murder by right-wing vigilantes.

At least 68 people have been killed in connection with blasphemy allegations since 1990, according to a tally maintained by Al Jazeera.

“There have been positive developments in the matter of the Pakistani government’s contact with Facebook’s management regarding the blocking of blasphemous content,” an interior ministry spokesperson said in a statement on Thursday.

Facebook would be sending a representative to visit Pakistan with regard to the matter, the statement said, and the government has appointed an official to liaise directly with the social networking website regarding the censoring of certain content.

In a statement quoted by the AP news agency, Facebook said it viewed government requests with care keeping in mind “the goal of protecting the privacy and rights of our users”.

The move comes after Nawaz Sharif, Pakistan’s prime minister, ordered a ban on all online content deemed to be “blasphemous” on Tuesday.

“Ridiculing a religion in the name of freedom of expression should not be allowed,” Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan, Pakistan’s interior minister, said on Thursday.

11 People under Threat.

Khan is spearheading the government’s efforts to have the material blocked.

Eleven people have been identified as having posted “blasphemous” comments or material on Facebook and will be acted against, the minister said. The identities of the 11 people in question were not immediately clear.

The authorities’ move comes after a senior judge at the Islamabad High Court called upon the government to block all blasphemous content online, “even at the cost of blocking entire social media”.

The petition at the High Court accuses five rights activists who were abducted in early January of running Facebook pages that had posted content deemed to be blasphemous.

No evidence has been shared directly linking the five activists to the Facebook pages in question, but during their three-week disappearance the men were the subject of a vast social media campaign accusing them of blasphemy.

“There is overwhelming evidence that Pakistan’s blasphemy laws violate human rights and encourage people to take the law into their own hands.

Audrey Gaughran, Amnesty International’s Director of Global Issues.”

Amnesty: Pakistan: How the blasphemy laws enable abuse.

Al Jazeera continues,

Pakistan’s telecommunications regulator currently blocks hundreds of websites, including those run by ethnic Baloch dissidents, as well as sites containing pornography or material deemed to be blasphemous.

It is empowered under a 2016 law to block any content “if it considers it necessary in the interest of the glory of Islam or the integrity, security or defence of Pakistan or any part thereof, public order, decency or morality”.

In January 2016, Pakistan ended a three-year ban on video-sharing website YouTube, also over blasphemous content, after the content provider agreed to launch a localised version that would streamline the process for content to be censored for viewers in Pakistan.

Asad Hashim is Al Jazeeras Web Correspondent in Pakistan. He tweets @AsadHashim.

Written by Andrew Coates

March 17, 2017 at 1:51 pm

Momentum Grassroots Conference: Why much of the Left Keeps its Distance.

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Grassroots Momentum,  “packed out” meeting says Monster Raving Greenstein Party.

Many people on the left have been wary of Grassroots Momentum and its Conference.

A clear indication of why comes in this report from the Monster Raving Greenstein Party,

A Fighting Start but It is Only the Beginning

Despite opposition from the Zionist Trotskyists (!) of the Alliance for Workers Liberty, the original statement to the conference opposing ‘unjust’ expulsions was amended to make it clear that fake allegations of anti-Semitism should be resisted.

As the said “Zionist” AWL have commented,

On the “anti-semitism witch-hunt”

An amendment was carried which was written down on a flipchart on the platform (illegibly to many) as “opposition to the antisemitism witch-hunt” and read out (inaudibly to some) as “opposition to the false antisemitism witch-hunt”.

This was done without debate, and with a fair scattering of abstentions, votes against, and people just not voting.

Why? Most people surely voted for the amendment because they oppose the Compliance Unit’s arbitrary ways, know that some charges of antisemitism have been invented or inflated arbitrarily, and anyway believe that prejudice is best dealt with primarily by discussion and education.

However, the term “antisemitism witch-hunt” is ambiguous and slippery. In some of the arguments elsewhere of those backing the amendment, it is taken to mean that any charge of antisemitism against anyone on the left must automatically be assumed to be witch-hunting invention motivated by hostility to the Palestinian people.

That is not true. There have been streaks of antisemitism in the left throughout our history – and, where Stalinism has been influential in the left, more than a streak – and the best sections of the left have sought to clean up that antisemitism and educate ourselves, rather than wave away all concerns as fabrications by the right wing.

We have called for an amnesty for all those summarily suspended or expelled by the Compliance Unit. We have opposed the suspension of Jackie Walker. Those stances can and must be combined with a proper recognition that the left must put our own house in order on antisemitism, and that someone being targeted factionally and arbitrarily by the right does not make everything they have said automatically ok.

There was another problem with the amendment. A number of people have been suspended on charges to do with antisemitism. Mostly they will get a hearing with at least some rules and safeguards. Some have had their suspensions lifted.

The far bigger section of the victims of the Compliance Unit are those excluded just for being left-wing, for allegedly sympathising with Workers’ Liberty or Socialist Appeal or Left Unity. Almost all of them have been denied a hearing, or an appeal, or even what would in any halfway fair system be considered definite charges.

That is the larger part of the Compliance Unit’s work. An amendment which just said “opposition to the witch-hunt”, reinforcing the already-included “opposition to unjust expulsions and suspensions”, would have been much better.

Tony Greenstein and Gerry Downing – in their different ways, the most vocal advocates on the web of the view in which the core of politics is about the heroic resistance of “anti-Zionists” such as themselves to the supposedly all-powerful, all-pervading, ever-conspiring “Zionists”, and the most strident denouncers of leftists such as Rhea Wolfson (“Zionist ally of Jon Lansman”) – stood for election to the committee. We are glad to report that they both failed, with Downing coming bottom.

Greenstein and Downing stood for election…

The Monster Raving Greenstein Party got 49 votes,  and Downing got 11 coming last in the poll, but he still stood.

Greenstein.

Greenstein, as the above article states, has denounced Rhea Wolfson.

Denounce is perhaps too weak a word.

This is what he says of her support for Momentum’s Jon Lansman’s exclusion of Jackie Walker from her position..within Momentum, “a White woman who supports the racist Israeli state scapegoating a Black woman.” (Blog)

Comrade Rhea is not the only person individually targeted for Monster raving abuse.

There is a long, a very long list, but we will limit this post to a special case, in Momentum...

Lansman has embarked on rehabilitating Zionism and the State of Israel“, (June 2016), “I could also ask Jon Lansman a few of those questions that Tony Benn once suggested, such as ‘who put you there’ ‘from where does your power derive’ and the clincher ‘how do we get rid of you’? There is a reason that dictators have always loved plebiscites.  That is because they get to choose the questions and to frame them in such a way that they get the ‘right’ answer. Most people won’t remember Hitler’s plebiscites on the Rhine and the Saarland but they haven’t had a very good reputation ever since.” (January 2017).

Here is how he attacked the Jewish Socialist Group: Bundists behaving like Stalinists – JSG Leaders Remove Critics of Lansman from Jews 4 Jeremy FB Group (February 2017).

Here is the most recent raving limits of Greenstein, a call to create a separate ‘democratic’ Momentum, “The fight for democracy is not a split. Lansman’s coup should be resisted by founding a democratic Momentum, urges Tony Greenstein (Weekly Worker. 23.2.17)

Small wonder that he was suspended from Labour, the old charge of bringing discredit on the party  would alone be enough.

Downing.

Gerry Downing, be it noted, is famous for his writings, and those of his comrade, Ian Donovan, on the Web site Socialist Fight, on the ‘International Jewish Bourgeoisie”.

This is located Donovan writes, in Draft Theses on the Jews and Modern Imperialism 6-9-2014.

Jewish overrepresentation in the US and other ruling classes. For the United States, which is the most powerful state in human history, you can easily find informed Jewish sources that place the representation of Jews among billionaires, the most powerful elements of the capitalist elite, at between 40 and 48% – nearly half (for example see http://www.jewishworldreview.com/joe/aaron101007.php3). This is the only logically coherent explanation for the power of the so-called lobby. It must be faced fearlessly by Marxists, irrespective of any discomfort that may result from confronting the widespread prejudice (for that is what it is) that to mention, let alone try to analyse, such factual matters is in some way racist. To ignore them in this way is itself an act of betrayal of those on the receiving end of the crimes that result from this state of affairs, and in that sense a chauvinist position.

After a lengthy ‘analysis’ he concludes:

The Jews are not a nation, but they have a pan-national bourgeoisie that had national aspirations and wanted a territorial asset to give expression to that.

This pan-imperialist Zionist bloc within the bourgeoisie plays an active role in the oppression of the Palestinians.

Downing has been expelled from membership of the Labour Party.

Why?

Few would be bothered to read the above drivel but they will look at what the right-wing blogger Guido Fawkes revealed.

“An unbylined article on Downing’s Socialist Fight website, which Downing himself tweeted, is headlined: “Why Marxists must address the Jewish Question”. The piece speaks for itself:

“The role Zionists have played in the attempted witch-hunt against Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour leadership campaign is glaringly obvious… Since the dawning of the period of neo-liberal capitalism in the 1970s, elements of the Jewish-Zionist bourgeoisie, from Milton Friedman to Henry Kissinger to the pro-Israel ideologues of the War on Terror, have played a vanguard role for the capitalist offensive against the workers.”

Downing appears to have an obsession with “Jewish” people”

Given this background it is not surprising that Downing was thrown out of the Labour Party,  and claims about “witch-hunting invention” are distasteful, to say the least.

Is Grassroots Momentum going to campaign to get him back?

Then there is this, which is equally serious, politically if not ethically.

Socialist Fight recently helped organise this pro-Assad  meeting on Syria:

Socialist Fight Public Meeting Vanessa Beeley Speaks

To continue on last Saturday’s  meeting.

Grassroots Conference 11 March 2017 Steering Committee Election Results

The candidate for this group, Labour Party Marxists, Stan Keable, got 13 votes.

The Latest Labour Party Marxists Bulletin describes the conflict within Grassroots Momentum.

Against Jon Lansman, but for what?

The outline three tendencies (how far they are organised factions is left open):

  • Some want a clean split from Momentum – the sooner, the better. There are, naturally, differences over with whom to split, to form what exactly and on what political basis.
  • Some want to continue to work in Momentum for now, while at the same time almost replicating the official body – with parallel structures and similar political limitations, but on a lower level: similar campaigns, similar leadership elections, etc.
  • Some – and LPM belongs to this third group – agree that we should continue to work within Momentum for the time being, but with a clear understanding of its limited shelf life, openly criticising its exceedingly pinched political outlook and subordination to the politics of Jeremy Corbyn’s 10 pledges.

But essentially it boils down, apparently, to two.

Tina Werkmann of Labour Party Marxists, the New Steering Committee, and, I am not spilling any beans, the group that produces the Weekly Worker,  gives an  overview.

Are political differences between the two groups?

Definitely. This is reflected in Grassroots Momentum as a whole: Those left on the old steering committee included Alliance for Workers’ Liberty supporters Michael Chessum and Jill Mountford (plus Fire Brigades Union leader Matt Wrack and Jackie Walker); the CAC is made up of Jackie Walker, Alec Price and Delia Mattis (Josie Runswick resigned early on and was replaced by Lee Griffiths). The CAC took control, chaired the whole day and managed to almost totally sideline the AWL.

Jackie Walker and her supporters hate the AWL with a passion, of course.

And I totally understand why. The ugly truth is that AWLers have actively participated in the ‘anti-Semitism’ witch-hunt against her. They supported Jon Lansman in sacking her as Momentum vice-chair in September 2016. In effect, this was a dry run for the next coup – the ‘big one’ on January 10 – when Lansman crushed any democracy in the organisation and simply imposed a new, crassly undemocratic constitution.

It was clear at the GM conference that the AWL has really made a lot of enemies in all of this – just to add to those of us who already opposed their pro-Zionist social-imperialism. There was a great deal of hostility against them on display – and it only increased during the day. I must confess, I almost felt a bit sorry for them. Almost

Because the few proposals on display were presented so out of context and in a truncated manner, AWL members tried to make various ‘points of order’ throughout the day. Some were more useful than others; some were presented more coherently than others. The AWL’s Rosie Woods, who had taken up a position near the stage, was greeted, after she’d been on her feet a few times, with a rather sectarian chorus of “Sit down, sit down” (led by Gerry Downing, of all people – he’s been on the receiving end of people’s displeasure a few times, so probably should know better). But to claim that they “disrupted” the conference, as some comrades have since done on Facebook, is seriously misleading and excuses the CAC’s role in the often disorganised and muddled way conference was planned and conducted.

Actually, it reminds me of the way Jon Lansman, Owen Jones and Paul Mason have tried to blame ‘the Trots’ (ie, the left) for the failures of Momentum to take off. Not a healthy response …

I happen to be one of those who thinks that the Alliance for Workers’ Liberty have sane politics on a variety of issues, from Europe (they are pro-Another Europe is Possible), the Middle East (as for their ” pro-Zionist social-imperialism“, they are for a democratic ‘two states’ solution to the Israel/Palestine issue, and back democratic secular forces against both Islamists, genocidal or ‘moderate’,  and tyrannies like Assad’s), and on the need for radical democratic socialist politics in the UK.

Many of us hold these views, without a need to ‘join’ anything more than pressure groups within the Labour Party.

We want to see a Labour government and  are intensely  aware of the difficulties that presents at the moment.

To that end wish to co-operate with the full range of party members, to reach out to the electorate, while trying to promote ideas of democratic socialism.

The above reports on Momentum Grassroots confirm that we are right not to get directly involved in this particular war, which involves those of the stripe of Greenstein and Downing, however much on the margins.

Regardless that is, if “Our comrades elected to the leadership of this new network will try to work seriously, constructively, and in cooperation with others, to make that happen” this will, I suspect, be the attitude of many on the left.

Meanwhile this is taking place in a couple of days:

CONFERENCE 2017  Momentum’s Inaugural National conference – Building to Win – Saturday 25th March

 9ac7b73e-a65d-4746-9234-2fbb4b9cf077.jpg

More information: Momentum conferences are like buses. Andy Stowe. (Socialist Resistance).

Written by Andrew Coates

March 16, 2017 at 1:00 pm

Dutch Elections: No Breakthrough in Sight for anti-EU Socialistische Partij.

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https://www.sp.nl/sites/default/files/styles/page_section_float_337/public/fb-kandidaten-a.png?itok=TAdcNLRh

Radical left Socialist Party remains stuck at 13-16%

Dutch elections: Polls open amid fears of far-right surge led by Geert Wilders’s PVV party

The focus of Wilders obviously dominates the news but we should also ask,  how are other parties and the left faring in Holland?

Tom Louwerse Leiden University summarises the position for the Dutch Left.

The 2017 Netherlands election: Polls suggest mid-sized parties are now the new norm in Dutch politics

On the left of the political spectrum, the Labour Party (PvdA) is the big loser. Its electoral decline started right after the 2012 elections in which they gained 24.8% of the vote. Within a year that was reduced to under 10% in the polls and it has remained at this relatively low level of support ever since, currently polling around 8%.

The other parties on the left seem unable to profit from this loss. The Socialist Party (SP) is the only opposition party that has not gained support compared to the last election, with the party polling around 8%. The Green Party (GL) is recovering from its poor 2012 showing: from around 2% then to around 9% now. Still, this is only a 7 percentage point increase, while the Labour Party has lost 17%.

Some of these votes seem to be going to the Democrats (D66), a ‘social-liberal’ centre party (currently at 10%), according to an analysis by Ipsos. And parties like 50PLUS (which targets the elderly), CDA and PVV also win over smaller numbers of former PvdA voters. But a sizeable share of 2012 PvdA-voters are now saying they will not vote or do not know who to vote for. Whether they will really stay at home or will eventually decide to vote for the PvdA anyway, might impact the size of the PvdA’s losses.

There is no clear front-runner on the left of the political spectrum. If such a party will emerge in the next few weeks, it might attract some strategic voters who would like to see at least one strong left-wing party that has a good chance of being part of the next government.”

A few years ago there were predictions that the Dutch Socialist Party, Socialistische Partij, was set to become a major political force in Holland. But, despite its hope in 2012 that the SP would overtake the Labour Party in the 2012 elections, what happened was ” the sudden collapse in support for the party during the final weeks of the campaign(for an overview see: The Dutch Elections and the Socialist Party. Daniel Finn. New Left Review. 77. 2012).

Despite the same  Labour Party (PvDA) now entering a prolonged crisis, with some predicting its marginalisation, the SP has not grown.

As Wikipedia states, “As of 2016 the ruling VVD-PvdA coalition has meant that the PvdA lost a huge part of its base. In the polls, the party currently stands at around 12 seats, losing 26, which has been a stable position for the last three years.[16] Despite that, the SP has gained little to nothing, remaining stable at around 16 seats in the same polls.”

From the site of the Dutch Socialist Party.

In terms of membership the SP, with more than 43.000 members, is the third biggest party in the Netherlands. Only the Christian Democrats (CDA) and Labour Party (PvdA) are bigger, but the gap is narrowing!

Members of the SP come from all walks of life. Factory workers and students, nurses and maintenance engineers, accountants and civil servants, school students and pensioners all work together in our party. Every member is part of a local branch and can participate in decision-making at branch meetings. Each branch chooses its own executive, nominates candidates for elected office and sends delegates to the Congress. On this basis the SP’s national organs – the Party Executive, the Party Council and the Congress – are also democratically elected and controlled.

The SP is represented at all levels in Dutch politics and in the European Parliament. We have fifteen Members in the 150-seat ‘Tweede Kamer’ (corresponding to the House of Commons or House of Representatives), eight in the Eerste Kamer (the Senate), two in the European Parliament and about 500 representatives on city and local councils and in provincial assemblies. The SP forms part of the local governing coalitions of forty municipalities, some of which belong to the largest Dutch municipalities. As of 2011 the SP also participates in governing coalitions in two of the Netherlands’ twelve provinces.

Participation in national government is considered only a matter of time.

The SP’s elected representatives donate their allowances to the party, and are reimbursed only for certain out-of-pocket, receipted costs. The surplus helps to cover the party’s activities. Representatives working for the party full time receive a modest professional salary.

Roemer: close door on ‘Sultan’ Erdoğan’s propaganda circus

In the view of SP leader Emile Roemer, there should be no place in the Netherlands for the bizarre propaganda circus that Turkish president Recep Erdoğan is touring around Europe in the runup to a referendum which may give him almost unlimited power.

Roemer argues that Erdoğan has been handled with kid gloves for far too long. “We have long tried to persuade the government that the talks over EU accession for Turkey should be suspended,” he recalls. “The fact that Erdoğan has no interest in the rule of law isn’t something that has only just emerged. He’s previously packed all of his prisons with journalists and even locked up elected representatives of the people.

“The last few days have shown us that the Turkish government is incapable of making agreements which you can trust. It’s audacious nonsense to insult the entire Netherlands while at the same time stoking up conflicts and turning people against the country in which they live, then calling on the principle of freedom of expression. That’s not how it works. Turkey should not be interfering in our domestic affairs. The situation is confirming what the SP has been saying for years, that we must be fully committed to combatting Ankara’s attempts to influence Dutch citizens.”

23 Jan 2017

Large-scale unregulated labour migration puts pressure on wages

The opening of the borders to central and eastern European (CEE) workers just a decade ago has led to labour market dislocation in the countries from which people have been attracted and repression, exploitation and underpayment in the Netherlands. The SP wants to see rogue temping agencies banned and work permits introduced for workers from CEE countries.

by Tijmen Lucie

The opening of the borders to central and eastern European (CEE) migrant workers has, particularly in sectors such as construction, horticulture, road transport and the food industry, led to repression and exploitation. Rogue temping agencies have had a free hand in putting people, especially those from central and eastern Europe, to work at low wages, using a number of dubious legal constructions. In this way worker is set against worker, wages are forced down and working conditions deteriorate.

The SP’s 10-point plan to combat oppression, exploitation and underpayment.

We halt at point 1.

  1. The Netherlands must take back control over who can come here from CEE countries to work. Free movement of workers must be scrapped. Employers should be required once again to apply for a permit if they wish to employ workers from CEE.

This stand has some history:

Dutch advance socialist case against immigration Nov 24, 2008 Neil Clark

Whether the SP’s present impasse is due to problems with the low level of labour movement activity, the “comparative dearth of social mobilization in recent years” (which like in the UK, has been in a downward spiral for some time),  the – unconvincing –  strategy of “revolutionary reformism”, and the impermeability of Dutch politics and civil society to radical left ideas,  as Finn (above) indicates, or that they’ve been sidelined by Wilders’ brand of national populism,  are matters for debate.

During the British EU Referendum the far-right Express reported,

Harry van Bommel, MP for Holland’s Socialist Party, told Express.co.uk: “If Britain leaves, that will give other countries courage.

“So now debate is beginning in the Netherlands about having a referendum on EU membership.

“We cannot go on the way we are – financing Greece, trying to keep countries in the eurozone. The eurozone will break up eventually.”

GHarry van Bommel says Brexit will give Holland ‘courage’

He added: “Because we’re in the euro, Dutch people see budget cuts, unemployment going up, and they relay that to the EU.

“Everyone knows the Commissioners in Brussels make €25,000 (£19,500) a month, yet pensions go down and the pension age goes up.

“These facts make the EU very unpopular. People distrust Europe and some people even hate Europe – it’s in an existential crisis.”

Van Bommel campaigns against a trade deal with Ukraine

Earlier this year the Netherlands overwhelmingly rejected a controversial EU proposal to remove trade barriers with Ukraine.

More than 61 per cent voted against the idea, with Dutch leader Mark Rutte admitting ratification of the treaty “cannot go ahead”.

But Eurocrats have ignored the result and claimed the deal will be adopted “very soon”, sparking a furious outcry from Eurosceptics.

What is clear now is that the SP’s anti-European Union and anti-migrant labour policies have been taken up, let’s just say (see last sentence), elsewhere.

The stagnation of the Dutch Socialist Party International Socialism. Issue: 151  22nd June 2016.Max van Lingen

Written by Andrew Coates

March 15, 2017 at 1:10 pm

Scottish Referendum: More Nationalist Claptrap as SWP Demands Vote so “May can be wrecked on the shores of Scotland.”

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Image result for scottish nationalists caricature sturgeon

Another Bout of Nationalist Claptrap Looms.

The Scottish National Party’s Call for a new referendum is not just a diversion from the fight against the Tory Government, its austerity,  and its Brexit plans.

It is an  extension of the sovereigntist call to take back ‘control’ of ‘our’ country from the Brexit backers and their left hangers-on to Scottish politics.

Shiraz is right to observe that Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn’s immediate response was wrong, Second Scottish referendum: why Corbyn was wrong.

…last weekend Jeremy Corbyn visited Glasgow and told the media: “If a referendum is held, then it is absolutely fine, it should be held. I don’t think it’s the job of Westminster or the Labour Party to prevent people holding referenda.”

“A spokesman for Corbyn” and “a source close to Corbyn” tried to minimise the damage.

According to the spokesman: “Jeremy reaffirmed our position today that if the Scottish Parliament votes for a referendum, it would be wrong for Westminster to block it. Labour continues to oppose a further referendum in the Scottish Parliament”.

But Labour has not taken a position that Westminster should agree to a referendum if Holyrood votes for it. And Corbyn’s argument that the Labour Party should not “prevent people from holding referenda” does not fit in with Scottish Labour’.

Shiraz is also right to underline that the SNP has an infinite supply of  reasons for call for Scottish independence as the cornerstone of their politics. Their apparent ‘left-of-centre’ politics, that is policies to boost public services for their people, are not social democratic. They do not demand equality, an end to the exploitation of the market, social ownership of the means of production, distribution and exchange (Clause Four) but the Scottish ownership of the political system.

Like sovereigntists everywhere the call for our ain folk to take power out of the hands of ‘Westminster’ may seem at odds with  apparent support for  membership of the European Union.

Slovakia, Poland and Hungary, to cite but three examples, are run by various coalitions of nationalists, including, in Slovakia’s case, a government agreement of  centre-right nationalists around , the ‘centre left’ PM Robert Fico.

In this context “the dissolution of a key imperialist state”  means a new set of mini-states as deeply implicated in the world political and economic system with nothing about the basic character of capitalism, market societies,  changed except a cultural gloss and a potential for nationalist political exploiters to ensconce themselves in privileged positions.

It is quite possible for a Europe of the Nations, a European Union that tilts to various kinds of nationalists, to emerge without doing anything more for the interests of the left than to divide it out between competing cultural and national interest group identities.

An indication of the poor economic logic behind this latest bid comes from the Financial Times (January 18th)

Scotland’s economic growth a third of UK level

Scotland’s economic growth was a third of the overall UK figure and unemployment is rising, according to figures published as the governing Scottish National party struggles to decide whether to demand another independence referendum.

The SNP made Scotland’s relative economic strength a central part of its case for independence ahead of the 2014 referendum, but growth has fallen behind, partly because of sharp falls in the oil price. New figures show Scottish onshore GDP in the third quarter of last year grew 0.2 per cent while equivalent UK growth was 0.6 per cent. Compared with the same period of 2015, Scottish GDP was up only 0.7 per cent, against the UK-wide figure of 2.2 per cent. Mark Diffley, of polling company Ipsos Mori Scotland, said that while voters often struggled to assign blame for economic problems between the governments in Edinburgh and London, the poor performance made leaving the UK a tougher sell.  “It’s probably more difficult to make an economic case for independence when things are looking so gloomy.”

Just saying that the SNP is pro-EU does not mean that the kind of national egotism the party has represented for decades will evaporated.

Meanwhile how will the pro-Scottish independence left react?

They are unlikely to care about economics….

A clue is in SWP leader Charlie Kimber’s article, printed last week, 7 Mar 2017.

We need to fight for new referendum on Scottish independence

There is no way back for Labour unless it breaks with its pro-Union stance.

It will take a mass movement, on the scale of the one in 2014 and beyond, to force the Tories to concede a referendum and then win it.

It won’t be won by saying it is to secure access to the bosses’ EU single market.

It has to be based on militant opposition to austerity and racism, and a fight for a society where people come before profit.

If that succeeds then just as David Cameron was brought down by the EU referendum, so May can be wrecked on the shores of Scotland.

More nationalist claptrap, more unionist claptrap…and, May will be gone…

The SWP no doubt wishes to repeat its success in backing Brexit.

Sorcerer’s Apprentices barely covers this lot…

 

Written by Andrew Coates

March 13, 2017 at 5:08 pm