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Stop the War Coalition attacks Open Labour and Lisa Nandy’s ‘Liberal Interventionism’

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StWC Warns of “returning Labour to  ‘liberal intervention’.”


In the latest journal of Liberation, (ex-Movement for Colonial Freedom) Andrew Murray, former Corbyn adviser and chief of staff at UNITE the Union, wrote, “Corbyn has been replaced by Starmer as Labour leader but pressure from the mass of the movement on the key issues – no more wars of intervention, support for the Palestinians, no cold war with China – can make a difference.”

Murry, who was, and is, a leading voice in the Stop the War Coalition (StWC) warned, “Biden signals a return to “business as usual” after four years of the racist authoritarianism of Trump. However, business as usual under Democrats and Republicans alike has meant one war of intervention after another this century, and Biden’s foreign policy team seems full of “liberal interventionists”. One area of great concern was that the West was drawn into “a quasi confrontational stance against China.”

Liberation Journal Winter 2020-21

These views have now been developed.

Murray, who spent many years( 1976 – 2016) in the Communist Party of Britain and Lindsey German (a leading member of the revolutionary socialist group, Counterfire) have written a polemic which grapples with the threat, as they imagine it,  of “liberal interventionism” taking hold within the British Labour Party.

Jeremy Corbyn writes in the introduction,,

Andrew Murray and Lindsey German have the benefit of a consistent and honest track record in opposition to war. They were part of the foundation group of the Stop the War Coalition in 2001 and have jointly written this pamphlet to ensure we do not descend into another bout of interventionism, and then pretend the consequences are nothing to do with the original military action.

The authors state,

In this pamphlet, we argue for the continuing salience of those policies amid indications that Corbyn’s successor, Sir Keir Starmer, and his Shadow Foreign Secretary Lisa Nandy will look for ways to abandon them. Not only are the main lines of Stop the War’s policies popular in the country, but they are also overwhelmingly popular among the Party membership. And the contemporary international situation makes them as relevant as ever, notwithstanding many changes in the world since our foundation in 2001.

The attack against Stop the War has been most recently expressed in a pamphlet published by Open Labour – A Progressive Foreign Policy for New Times. It was launched with the participation of Nandy, and subsequently endorsed by another member of Labour’s foreign affairs front bench team. Its arguments aim at returning Labour to its worst mistakes of the past, all made under the heading of ‘liberal intervention’.

This brochure then, is a reply to the  Open Labour pamphlet, Progressive Foreign Policy for New Times, by Frederick Harry Pitt snd Paul Thompson (in the distant past a leading figure in the radical left group Big Flame).

These is some of the core, well thought out and illustrated, arguments in the Open Labour document,

The dominant (though sometimes implicit) framing that drove Corbynism derived from anti-imperialist perspectives originally formed during the Cold War, national liberation struggles and opposition to repressive American interventions in South East Asia and Latin America in the 1960s and 70s. With the collapse of the Soviet block after the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, this binary ‘two campism’ posed the West against the Rest. However, anti-imperialism was reshaped and revitalised by military interventions, notably Iraq, influenced by the neo-conservative defence of US hegemony as the guarantor of an often somewhat shallow conception of liberal democracy.

They observe,

What is notable about its politics is the complete lack of interest in any conflicts not directly attributable to ‘the West’ and an inability to see any actor other than the US and its allies as having motives or powers. So, for example, Islamist attacks in Europe have typically been seen through a ‘reaping the whirlwind’ prism in which terror is wholly or mainly as a response to Western military intervention.

This will strike a chord with many people.

Anybody familiar with the tragedy of the Algerian civil war between a repressive military state and murdering Islamist groups during the 1990s, will be aware of the the underlying truth of this argument. Ii what sense was the Groupe Islamiste Armé, (GIA )a response to Western intervention? In what sense is are the mass murders of black Africans by Islamist Al-Shabaab in Mozambique, happening at this very moment,  the responsibility of the West?

One needs more than a few sentences to respond to the following, but the questions posed are at the heart of opposition to the Stop the War Coalition.

The Stop-the-War worldview cannot accommodate situations where Western inaction, rather than Western intervention, has played a decisive role in unfolding violence. When the STWC discusses the Syrian conflict, it is almost wholly silent about the role of Russia or Iran, and even the Assad regime itself. The response of  the Stop-the-War left to each and every major conflict the world over typically represents little more than a nostalgia trip getting the band back together for one last riff on the Iraq years. But contemporary conflicts do not sit easily with the Iraq complex of the left.

It would be hard to find any but the most general and unfocused criticism of Russia and Iran in the StWC public statements, If they have not gone as far as figures such as Chris Williamson in broadcasting false information that benefits the Assad regime it would be hard to find much that would distract from the view that Syria is a sovereign state and that however bad the state is the axis on which any solution to the civil war can be found recognises that soveriegnty.

Liberalism and the left.

An important section of A Progressive Foreign Policy for New Times. is about the political and ethical underpinning of globally “spreading the rule of law”, “global human rights” and “global emergency services”, as Mary Kaldor and Alex Sobel put it in their Introduction.

An important section of is informed by the views of liberalion demosm and human rights developed by the late Norman Geras. They are close to the ‘synthesis’ of human rights and democratic Marxism defended by, amongst others on the internationalist left,  the present Blog.  In this Blog’s case they are informed by the critical take on Marxism and democracy of writers such as  Claude Lefort, (the democratic revolution and its ‘indeterminacy’) and Étienne Balibar ( l’égaliberté. Equality-Liberty) , and the more supportive views on democratic Marxism by Hal Draper,  “one of the creators of the Third Camp tradition). One of the bases for an alternative to Campism, is this area, independent of any ‘side’ but that of left-wing internationalism and evolving fights for human and democratic rights.

This contrasts with figures such as Andrew Murray who spent several pages of  The Fall and Rise of the British Left (2019) pouring scorn on human rights, “poisonous seeds of the politics of personal identity and human rights”, full stop.

Some of the Open Labour writers’ strongest approaches is to these problems centred around political liberalism is this,

.. the late Norman Geras called those ‘tenets of liberalism not indissolubly bound up with capitalism’, namely its attempts to ‘set limits to the accumulation and abuse of political power…protecting the physical environment Progressive Foreign Policy for New Times,a space of individuals from unwarranted invasion’. It has done so albeit unevenly and imperfectly, historically through ‘evolving institutions and practices, political and juridical, to contribute to such ends’.


They summarise the accusation that the Stop the War Coalition is campist. That is,

The ‘two-campist’ positioning of Corbyn’s intellectual and political milieu, which relates world events to a crudely caricatured clash between the West and the rest, is instinctive and reflexive rather than properly thought through. It is an under-theorised posture automatically adopted in response to the vagaries and complexities of foreign affairs.

Campism, was originally the stand of the pro-Communist left. It was the duty of every revolutionary to defend the Soviet Union, the Socialist Camp, and, later, their Anti-imperialist allies. It can be seen the have left a trace: the gut feeling that anything the West does has to be opposed. It can lead some to ‘defend’ the forces opposed to the West, as certain leftists do, ‘defending’ Iran, Assad’s regime, and others. If the StWC could offer an example, surely they defend the Palestinian camp including Hamas, against Israel.


Reply by Murray and German.

The pamphlet is a diatribe in defence of the record of the Stop the War Coalition. Its internationalism, Murray and German assert, is based on that  “we have campaigned against the actions of our own government – which does not imply support for their enemies, In case you had not got that message they call it, “indigenous and home-grown opposition to a state’s foreign policy objectives.” Anybody reading the whole text will find this repeated and repeated, “Our anti-imperialism must therefore start from here. Britain is part of one imperial bloc, and that is the one we need to challenge in our effort to give the country a new direction in world affairs.”

I doubt if there are any people who’ve been on the left for any time has not heard the slogan The Main Enemy is at Home. . This is not campism “guided by support for another ‘camp’ of hostile foreign powers” but one thing is pretty clear, it not striking out an independent policy, it is being against one side. Or, as they put it in a lengthy list of causes, “The answer to this charge is simple: in every case we have campaigned against the actions of our own government – which does not imply support for their enemies.” They attack the ‘bloc’ in short.

Away from words this is a significant issue. The principle does not always sit easily with internationalism: our main friends may be abroad. How do we help people fighting against dictatorial regimes, and genocidal groups like the Islamic State (Daesh)? This is, as the Open Labour pamphlet frames it, a major issue of human rights violations, ethnic cleansing and genocide. All Murray and German can say on Syria is that there are lots of actors, “intervention on all sides “. They avoid the issue that it was Western, primarily US action, which permitted the Kurdish forces to survive and defeat the Islamist genociders and that it was Trump’s decision to withdraw that support which has let other Islamists, under the aegis of the Turkish state, to push them back. And, as we learn, is pursuing an invasion of South Kurdistan.

What do the StWC  propose for the Kurdish people in Syria and their defenders in the PYD ? I cannot recall anything from Corbyn, and even less from the StWC about meeting the military needs for armed defence. What exactly did they offer when they state, “That does not exclude solidarity and support for those struggling for freedom, of course”? Early Day motions in Parliament? Kind words before the Coronets of Power? They looked sheepish when asked about this when  Kobanê  was in imminent  danger of falling, and was saved thanks to allied airpower: today, they do even bother to look at the Kurdish struggle.

Human Rights.

What kind of human rights do the StWC defend? Murray and German manage the impressive job of talking about issues around “China’s growing military strength” without mentioning China’s record, from the persecution of the Uyghurs, clamp down on freedom for dissenters,  to the attacks on democratic forces in Hong Kong.

Instead they pontificate in a  flurry of speculation,

It is also more likely that Biden will follow Obama and Trump in prioritising confronting China. This represents the danger of a new Cold War, but not of an Iraq-style invasion or a Libya-style bombing campaign, at least for the foreseeable future. Britain has announced that it will dispatch one of its two aircraft carriers to the Far East to assist in this confrontational posture. Nandy appears signed up to the anti-China strategy – Stop the War can see no case for  Britain deploying military hardware on the other side of the globe, against a country which poses no military threat to us.

The authors were on their strongest ground, when outlining the failures of humanitarian intervention –  although the Western leaders in these cases were always careful to underlay the reasons for their acts with appeals to national self-interest rather than a serious case for human rights.

In reality the wars of recent decades were not noble crusades against ‘fascism’ but attempts at regime change involving the deployment of huge amounts of military might. This often succeeded quite easily in overthrowing existing governments. However, the methods of imperialist war and occupation proved totally incapable of building the better societies they had promised – instead they led to endless continuing conflict, widespread displacement, human rights abuses and often very large numbers of civilian casualties as well as refugees. Many societies will not recover from the consequences of being ‘saved’ by the West for generations.

Now all Murray and German  have left is a last bow to things that never happened and were never going to,

Corbynism offers a different approach to the world. His Labour government would have aimed at disengaging Britain from the US-led hegemonic project, focussing instead on dispute resolution, de-escalation of conflicts and the reallocation of resources to poverty alleviation. It would have been a friend, rather than the sworn enemy, of movements for liberation and social justice, and radical governments, around the world. Every effort would have been made to address injustices like the dispossession of the Chagos Islanders and the occupation of the Palestinian territories. And over the longer term it would have reduced the power of the City of London and curbed the arms trade, two drivers of neo-imperial policy. It would have taken arms conversion seriously. It would not have assumed that Britain has a right and responsibility to intervene militarily willy-nilly.


Written by Andrew Coates

February 12, 2021 at 2:59 pm

Open Labour’s welcome proposals for “Member-led democracy”.

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Open Labour - Home | Facebook

Welcome Ideas.

Many people in the Labour Party are tired of constant attacks on Keir Starmer

The below comes from a site which claims a close link with one of Labour’s main backers, UNITE the union,

The constant attempt to undermine Labour’s new Leader extends to this:

Some left wing activists, inside and outside Labour,  refer, constantly, to Jeremy Corbyn, his socialism, and his achievements, which they contrast with today’s Shadow Cabinet’s policies and actions.

There is still a great deal of disappointment swirling around, and a search for targets to blame.

Many critics are activists who worked to get Corbyn elected and have long supported Labour.

But some influential voices who join in,and amplify, criticisms of Labour and who wish  to “defend our legacy” are from those who only supported Labour after Corbyn was voted leader.

Counterfire which runs the better known People’s Assembly, and has great influence on the Stop the War Coalition, is one. This was their call at the end of July “Starmer’s stampede to the right means that socialists will need to reach beyond the Labour Party to build a fighting left, argues Chris Nineham.” This message can be found debated amongst those who say they will “stay and fight” and those off for some new vehicle outside of Labour.

Counterfire’s leadership were key figures in George Galloway’s Respect Party.

What kind of politics did they have? In 2004 Counterfire leader John Rees declared in 2003, “”Socialists should unconditionally stand with the oppressed against the oppressor, even if the people who run the oppressed country are undemocratic and persecute minorities, like Saddam Hussein.”(Guardian).

Rees stood on a Respect slate in the European elections and in 2006 in a local election in East London (coming second against Labour). Do they defend that legacy?

Instead of looking to the past – and this Blog could continue for a long time in this vein…..- we should perhaps take a different approach.

Yesterday Open Labour published these proposals,

Open Labour’s 11 party reform proposals for the Forde Inquiry

Our party has never been more inward-looking in this century. But this gives us an opportunity for serious self-reflection, so that we can get our own house in order, rather than continue to allow internal crises to threaten to implode our party and rupture the labour movement.

For several years, Open Labour has been pushing for internal culture change and a healthier democracy within the Labour Party. We have repeatedly expressed solidarity and support for Jewish members and sought to put pressure on the party to root out antisemitism. During the initial coronavirus lockdown, we hosted an online workshop for Young Labour members where we discussed the need for the party to become a more welcoming environment where no one is left behind

In summary these are

  1.  Co-operate with the EHRC investigation and implement its findings in full.
  2. The Labour Party should make a statement clarifying that it considers the matters of antisemitism, all other forms of prejudice, and sexual harassment to be squarely above sectarian politics; that they must be taken seriously regardless of the factional allegiances of the alleged offenders.
  3. The Labour Party must make clear at all levels that members must not dismiss the antisemitism issue as an anti-Corbyn or anti-left conspiracy.
  4. The Labour Party should implement an independent complaints procedure to depoliticise these processes .
  5. Welcome Keir Starmer’s promise to deliver antisemitism training to staff. We would also like to see equalities training delivered to party staff covering multiple forms of racism and other prejudices.
  6. The Labour Party should carry out regular staffing audits and push to diversify party staff at all levels, to identify and solve particular areas of underrepresentation.
  7. The Labour Party must work with its own affiliates, such as the Jewish Labour Movement, and other BAME Labour groups, when reforming internal processes.
  8. The NEC must draft and publish a clearer code of conduct for staff and ban explicitly sectarian behaviours of the type we have outlined, for as long as people are on the party payroll.
  9. Labour Party staff at all levels should act as neutral civil servants in carrying out the party’s democratically agreed aims, and promote a professional rather than sectarian culture.
  10. The Labour Party should formally distance itself from social media campaign accounts that propagate antisemitism or any other prejudice, and/or undermine the party’s ability to campaign against racism, whilst purporting to speak in the name of the Labour Party or parts of the Labour Party.
  11. The Labour Party should extend the use of the single transferable vote (STV) in internal elections that party members participate in.

The authors note,

This summer, we won a landmark campaign for a fairer, less sectarian, more democratic voting system for members to elect their Constituency Labour Party (CLP) representatives to Labour’s governing body, the national executive committee (NEC). Our organisation democratically selects preferred candidates for internal elections, and our members have overwhelmingly endorsed Ann Black and Jermain Jackman for CLP Reps on the NEC, along with George Lindars-Hammond as the new disability rep and Alice Perry for the local government section. For us, democracy must be at the heart of our approach to politics. It’s good to see other groups starting to catch up to us.


This is their conclusion.

We must make our party a welcoming environment for all, enforce zero tolerance for bigotry and bullying, and bring our member-led democracy into the 21st century.

We need to look outwards, beyond our own ranks and we need to have a bold, radical offer to the people of these islands. If we can’t do that, then why are we here? We don’t have all the answers, and we don’t pretend that we do, but we know that these 11 proposals are key to a more tolerant and democratic party that can live up the ambitions of our supporters.

Open Labour will continue to play our part in making the Labour Party.

These are welcome ideas above all the call to “look outwards”.

See also Open Labour Site.

We hope that within the Party all sides will be interested and that, specifically, the influential group Momentum will take note of the proposals.

Here is a report from their representatives on Labour’s National Executive Committee – it has not been widely circulated, beyond inner Momentum circles, and certainly has not been seen by ordinary party members who voted in the NEC elections.

It’s from the end of July 2020.

This is a collective report on behalf of NEC CLP reps: Yasmine Dar, Huda Elmi, Rachel Garnham, Ann Henderson, Jon Lansman and Darren Williams from Labour Party National Executive Committee meetings taking place in June/July 2020.

30 June – Emergency NEC

CLP reps thanked Keir for the work Labour was doing to hold the government to account, which should be Labour’s priority. Keir was asked again about his strategy for unity, asking if he agreed with the quote from Harold Wilson that ‘the Labour Party needs two wings to fly’, and how he planned to engage the 44% of party members who didn’t give him their first preference.

The report contains this extraordinary passage: 

Keir was asked if he would take the opportunity to apologise to the black community in Britain and the rest of the world, for his interview on BBC Breakfast which reduced Black Lives Matter to a ‘moment’ and it was pointed out that this did nothing to alleviate the just concerns that the black community have about the police.

It was stated that Keir’s comments emboldened the Far Right such as Nigel Farage, dishonoured George Floyd’s memory and those organising to eradicate racism across the world.

The question was a request for a simple Yes or No answer to apologise in an attempt to rebuild trust.

Those who crafted, carefully, this “report” with this strident, hectoring, language, do not represent the opinions of many Labour members.

Instead of disagreeing with a remark about a “moment” – “an exact point in time, an “appropriate time for doing something, an opportunity, a “stage in the development of something or in a course of events” (Oxford Dictionary) – the  called for Keir Starmer to “apologise to the black community in Britain and the rest of the world.”

Momentum representatives on Labour’s NEC took a strong  stand against the SIngle Transferable Vote.

The fourth discussion was about whether Single Transferable Vote should be used for the CLP section for the NEC. A whole series of concerns were raised by left NEC members, including the most important of all that such a significant decision should be made by annual conference. Other concerns included the need for an equality analysis as the new system appeared likely to have a detrimental impact on representation, the lack of any detail about how the new system would work including the women’s quota, the potential impact on turnout given the new system could cause confusion, and a serious request for a proper argument in favour other than ‘in line with commitments made by the Leader and Deputy Leader during the recent leadership election’ it was pointed out that it was by no means a central plank of their campaigns, and most members would not even have seen any pledges made on this issue.

THis is how the report presents the change.

As one CLP rep put it, the proposal appeared to be ‘another nail in the coffin of Keir’s commitment to Party unity.’ Nevertheless the NEC voted to approve STV for the CLP elections.

It will be interesting to see if Momentum responds to Open Labour’s proposals.

Labour members will make up their own minds about whether the group’s candidates for the NEC merit their vote.

Written by Andrew Coates

August 15, 2020 at 11:24 am