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Free Speech and the Left.

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Peter Thatchell: “I defend free speech but also warn against UK govt bid to punish universities that don’t stop free speech violations”

 

Readers of Socialist Worker this week will see two articles on Free Speech.

The first begins, ”

The battle to defend the right to speak out for Palestine has returned to universities.

Some students in Oxford tried to stop left wing ­filmmaker Ken Loach from speaking at a university event last week.

Tory education secretary Gavin Williamson ­demands that all universities adopt the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) definition and its examples to shut down legitimate criticism of Israel.

Universities fight to protect solidarity with Palestine

The second,

In the middle of a pandemic the Tories have decided to launch further attacks on the left and anti-racists, while also claiming they want to protect free speech.

Tory education secretary Gavin Williamson is demanding that universities adopt the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance definition of antisemitism. Effectively this will prevent criticism of Israel.

He is also pushing for legislation that would compensate speakers who are denied a platform at universities if they feel their free speech has been infringed.

This could include fascists.

But the Tories are not interested in giving people a voice, and you can guarantee they won’t be standing up for Palestine campaigners.

Instead they are trying to use arguments around free speech to push their agenda and to limit criticism of themselves.

…..

They are seeking to deflect anger in society away from class struggle.

That means we need anti-racist unity against Patel and the rest. The Stand Up To Racism demonstrations on 20 March are an important chance to build the movement.

We should oppose Williamson’s “free speech” charade.

‘Free speech’ campaign is designed to aid the right

The SWP wish to defend their right to speak out on ‘Zionism’, and could not care less about defending the right to express other controversial opinons. They do not look into the government’s claim that “There are some in our society who prioritise ‘emotional safety’ over free speech, or who equate speech with violence.” Nor do they discuss claims that whether there is a “free speech crisis” or not, allegations of Transphobia have also been at the forefront of  de-platforming, well beyond the confines of academia. One can only wonder at the reasons for the omission.

There is equally the issue of freedom of expression in the Labour Party, as this campaign indicates.

It is fair to say that for universities, and political parties and voluntary associations,  it up them to decide. As Ian Dunt argues (referring to academic bodies)  “It is not for government to make these decisions. It is for institutions and the people within them. That is where the fight for free speech operates. Not in the corridors of Whitehall.” But if we apply to this to the Labour Party there is no reason why the party’s rules on anti-Semitism and other forms of racism should not be applied to what is a voluntary body

In an effort to reconcile the contradictions in this approach Jewish Voice for Labour has just published an article from the left populist US journal Jacobin.

A socialist approach to Free Speech

Few writers in the USA would ever attack free speech as such. He talks of the liberal writer Timothy Garton Ash, Instead Faber offers a rambling discussion of how “social and economic inequality largely ignored by Garton Ash also play critical roles in limiting free speech. ”

But that is not exactly the point, since the view advanced is that certain speech is not acceptable.

One limit that crops up immediately is the right to offend, defended by Charlie Hebdo. To poke fun at Islam,  as they do, is not acceptable, the author judges, because he asserts that Islamophobia was rampant in France,

 

Garton Ash’s disregard for racism and discrimination is nowhere clearer than in his discussion of the vicious killings at the Parisian magazine Charlie Hebdo. In Free Speech, Garton Ash fails to mention France’s rampant Islamophobia as a factor in the attack. Indeed, at the time, he had no qualms about appealing for a “week of solidarity” in which newspapers would have simultaneously published a “carefully presented selection of the Charlie Hebdo cartoons, with an explanation of why they were doing so.”

…..

What Garton Ash fails to recognize is that antisemitism or anti-Catholicism were marginal phenomena at the time of those publications, whereas Islamophobia was at its height during and following the Hebdo attacks. Supporting the right to offend as an element of free speech can still take into account whether the offended represent marginalized communities.

In a measured tone (which contrasts with most of the anti-Charlie speakers, from Tariq Ali to the above SWP)  he concludes,

This is not meant to suggest that censorship should be enacted to end Islamophobia. Rather, the government and civil society should work together to develop a political climate that strongly repudiates Islamophobia and supports the vigorous legal punishment of anti-Muslim discrimination.

In other words governments and ‘civil society’ should   create an atmosphere that repudiates Charlie Hebdo. There is no word on defending their right to satire, to caricature, religion.

Peter Thatchell expresses a contrary positon,

For the Jacobin writer, free speech should neverthless be defended with few qualification for critics of Zionism and for their activities in universities.

A Socialist Approach deplores the ,

broader campaign against critics and opponents of Zionism. PEN America’s 2016 study found that many Zionist individuals and institutions have attempted to bar the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) campaign from campuses throughout the United States. For example, journalist Glenn Greenwald and others denounced a campaign by the Board of Regents of the University of California to ban anti-Israel criticism and activism in the name of combating antisemitism. Meanwhile, campuses nationwide have been pressured to fire pro-Palestinian professors and adopt reprisals against pro-Palestinian groups.

Farber concludes, after some reference to Rosa Luxemburg and the democratic advances of the labour movement, in these hard-to-make-sense-of sentences.

Consistent with this approach, we must defend free speech on its own terms, not merely because it helps to organize and fight for a new society. In this, free speech does not differ from the economic advances the working class and its allies have won. They are valuable both in their own right and because they strengthen the working class and its allies in their struggle for their emancipation.

By contrast most discussion of free speech focuses on why it is valuable in its “own right”. 

It is not Voltaire but the liberal, feminist and supporter of greater economic democracy.  John Stuart Mill (1806 – 1873) who advanced some of the strongest arguments for free speech in the celebrated On Liberty 1859.. He was concerned with the claims of authority, the ability of governments and institutions, to repudiate and prevent differing opinons. Truth he believed would emerge in the open expression of views and debate. Socialists may wish to eliminate the inequalities of power and money that give make some voices louder than others. But is not because we consider that out definition of an emancipatory end is right that we would wish to advance the free exchange of different standpoints. We have to accept the possibility not only that truth will emerge from debate but that between different claims the “nonconforming” opinion corrects a one-sided assertion.

These are not arguments about the ‘market place of ideas’ abstracted from history. A thread owes something to Milton’s call for unlicensed printing, which sees truth emerging from darkness by expose to the light Areopagitica; (1644). But it is largely about politics in the broadest sense. From the density of controversy we can see the uncertainty of democratic political life, from the challenge to centres of authority, we can see the indeterminacy of power, the absence of a permanent office holder, of the democratic ‘absent place’, the refusal to fix society in one shape run from the centre (ideas outlined in the writings of Claude Lefort on the ‘democratic revolution’).  In short, for pluralism and a belief in the power of persuasion.

Standing for this possibility may run against claims that the ruling ideas of society, and the bodies that support them hold sway. But if the left does not have the ability to convince others of our beliefs how can we ‘make socialists’ who can counter them? ,

Like the great French defender of tolerance the British political philosopher was concerned primarily with clashes between different religious beliefs, the “rags and remnants” of past persecutions. Mill equally was out to defend amongst the  “diversity of opinion” the right to scepticism about religion. Liberty of thought, of speaking and writing should be part of the political morality of free institutions, and the rule in countries which practice religious toleration. He was, in this context and using more modern language, concerned with asserting the right to speak out against those in power (‘authority’), whether in the state or in the Church.

Here are some of his central arguments in favour of freedom of expression.

First, if any opinion is compelled to silence, that opinion may, for aught we can certainly know, be true. To deny this is to assume our own infallibility. Secondly, though the silenced opinion be an error, it may, and very commonly does, contain a portion of truth; and since the general or prevailing opinion on any subject is rarely or never the whole truth, it is only by the collision of adverse opinions that the remainder of the truth has any chance of being supplied. Thirdly, even if the received opinion be not only true, but the whole truth; unless it is suffered to be, and actually is, vigorously and earnestly contested, it will, by most of those who receive it, be held in the manner of a prejudice, with little comprehension or feeling of its rational grounds. And not only this, but, fourthly, the meaning of the doctrine itself will be in danger of being lost, or enfeebled, and deprived of its vital effect on the character and conduct: the dogma becoming a mere formal profession, inefficacious for good, but cumbering the ground, and preventing the growth of any real and heartfelt conviction, from reason or personal experience.

There was, for Mill, one limit (known retrospectively as the ‘harm principle’).

An opinion that corn-dealers are starvers of the poor, or that private property is robbery, ought to be unmolested when simply circulated through the press, but may justly incur punishment when delivered orally to an excited mob assembled before the house of a corn-dealer, or when handed about among the same mob in the form of a placard. Acts of whatever kind, which, without justifiable cause, do harm to others, may be, and in the more important cases absolutely require to be, controlled by the unfavourable sentiments, and, when needful, by the active interference of mankind. The liberty of the individual must be thus far limited; he must not make himself a nuisance to other people.

It does not take a leap to see how this can be extended to a distinction between what Farber calls “racist persuaders and violent racist intimidators.” Property is not the issue here. The original tactic of “no platforming” which was a street demonstration strategy of combatting violent far-right groups, like the National Front and the British Movement in 1970s Britain who set our faces against a “mob” of King and Country racists parading through towns and cities.

This, to say the least, was not about being hurt by the expression of views during talks they they are not obliged to listen to, books they do not have to read, or media which they do not have to look at.

It is hard to deny that right of groups of students or workers at universities to invite/host who they want to come and speak (with the above limitations in mind) is an important foundation for  a lively campus civil society and to students’ and university workers’  ability to organise and campaign on political and social issues.

Written by Andrew Coates

February 19, 2021 at 11:21 am

Socialist Workers Party and TUSC say “come and join us!”.

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Building coalitions outside SUTR/SWP: London Anarchist Federation write up on 9th December Antifascist mobilisaton – Freedom News

 

SWP, “The future has to lie outside Labour.”

 

The Socialist Workers Party held its annual rally last weekend. Not many people noticed. But we Spotters did. “Over 400 members attended the conference held online.”

In the run up to the event an eagle-eyed writer, ‘Peter Manson’,  for a small leftist magazine noted,

the December PCB provides membership figures, which this year appear in the CC’s ‘Finance report 2019-20’. Here it is stated: “The number of registered members of the SWP is 6,701. This is about an increase of 250 on last year.”

But what does it mean to be an ‘SWP member’? There is a clue in this sentence: “Around 2,000 of our members are paying a regular subscription …” Yes, that’s right – well under a third of them pay any dues.

But what does it mean to be an ‘SWP member’? There is a clue in this sentence: “Around 2,000 of our members are paying a regular subscription …” Yes, that’s right – well under a third of them pay any dues! The CC elaborates: “New members tend to pay much lower subs – or sometimes none at all, if someone in the branch has not explained the importance of making a financial contribution.”

This gives the whole game away. These so-called ‘members’ are merely individuals who have filled in an application form.

‘Mason’ also found this in their internal debate.

“Jim (Newcastle)” proposes an addition to Socialist Worker’s ‘What we stand for’ column, which reads:

In the event of a successful transition to socialism … we reject any attempt to create a one-party state by encouraging a multi-party system, with the provision that all parties represent different means of progressing towards production for need, not profit, and do not include any policies that seek to discriminate on the basis of gender, ethnicity, religion or disability.

In other words, once the working class has taken power, the only kind of political parties permitted will be those advocating the building of socialism.

 

At the event, (SWP conference—Debating where next for the left )

Charlie Kimber, SWP joint national secretary and editor of Socialist Worker, led a discussion on Tory failures and the crisis in Labour.

During discussion of the Labour Party Charlie highlighted the need to work with the Labour left in united fronts, but to argue for revolutionary ideas.

“Keir Starmer has agreed with the Tories more than he has disagreed. We need to put forward the argument for people disillusioned with Labour to join the SWP.

“The best response from the Labour left to attacks from Starmer would be leaving the Labour Party.”

This is one of the vehicles  which the SWP sees as important for their activity.

Delegates also highlighted the People Before Profit (PBP) organisation’s emergency ­programme, along with the importance for action on the streets and in workplaces.

There is no reference to a debate about the consequences of Brexit. The SWP enthusiastically voted for Brexit in the Referendum. The most recent reference (December)  in Socialist Worker to the issues Brexit raises,  concludes with a long list things that didn’t and would never, happen,

Brexit could have meant more than this

 The feeling against the elites could have led to a Brexit in the interests of working class people. 

That would have broken from the pro-business single market regime but maintained and extended workers’ freedom of movement.

It would have been linked to more money for the NHS and education, a higher minimum wage, action on climate chaos and other issues. This is what supporters of a left exit from the EU (Lexit) argued. To win such a Brexit would have required mass pressure. 

Instead the Tories have come up with various versions of Brexit designed to make it even easier for the bosses to exploit people. 

Instead they talked about happier themes.

The SWP effectively runs Stand up to Racism (SUTR).

Brian from the central committee (CC) introduced the session on racism and the far right, BLM, and Stand Up to Racism.

 debate took place on whether to add an amendment to the session’s commission about the SWP pushing for SUTR to explicitly oppose Israeli apartheid.

Martin from the Black Country said, “We need a very clear profile as the party saying we are against anti-Palestinian racism and Israeli apartheid.”

Sophia from the CC disagreed with this approach. She said, “As the SWP we are uncompromising on our position over Palestine. But in the united front we don’t put ultimatums on people. We need the strongest possible anti-racist movement in Britain.”

The amendment was voted down.

Translated into ordinary language this means that the SWP/SUTR will work with people who do not agree that Israel is an apartheid state, some of whom may well include Jews.

In the meantime another approach to Labour has got underway from equally virulent pro-Brexit groups, the Socialist Party and the RMT.

TUSC to hold local elections conference in February

The Socialist. 13th of January.

The Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition (TUSC) national steering committee has agreed the agenda and timetable for a local elections conference to be held on Zoom on Sunday 7 February.

The conference has been convened under the heading ‘Fighting back against Starmer’s new New Labour – including at the ballot box!’, starting at 11am to conclude by 1.30pm.

Platform speakers from the constituent components of the TUSC steering committee, the RMT transport workers’ union, the Socialist Party, the Resistance Movement (note, this is Chris Williamson’s outfit) and the individual members’ representatives, will introduce the single plenary session.

There is no pre-registration for this conference. The Zoom details will be published on the events page at tusc.org.uk nearer the time.

Here is Chris Williamson’s new Best Friend:

It is believed that the SWP will not be supporting, even minimally, this front.

No round up of these developments would be complete with giving the views of another of the SWP’s critics though,

Pseudo-left groups all over the world have responded to the attempted coup led by Donald Trump with one voice. It is a position best summed up by Alex Callinicos, the theoretical leader of Britain’s Socialist Workers Party (SWP) and its sympathising groups in many countries: “No need to panic—order will be restored in Washington.”

 

The next passage from the article,  may not be about the SWP, and refers to a breakaway from the party. But it will strike many people as a stern, but fair comment and credits us Pabloites for running the IMG to boot!,

Counterfire specialises in offering a platform for the flotsam and jetsam of pseudo-left politics. Illustrative of the politically diseased character of this milieu is the closing commentary of Tariq Ali, the former leader of the now defunct British Pabloite outfit, the International Marxist Group, and now a self-promoting media commentator of no fixed political abode. He concluded his own dismissal of events by wishing success for the political violence planned by Trump’s supporters, writing, “Instead of running scared and being taken out by the cops, [Mike] Pence and [Nancy] Pelosi should have waltzed out together, down the street till they reached the White House… and then? Fill in the blanks as the mood takes you.”

 

The Last Gasps of the Pro-Brexit left.

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Lacks “a sense of humility and appreciation” for Farage that ‘Left-Wing’ Full Brexit says is needed. 

With the Brexit Crisis fueling unprecedented voting shifts in the European election campaign the Pro-Brexit left ‘Lexit’ as they like to call it, (nobody else does) often feels to get away from the tiresome drag of cloud cuckoo land and escape to somewhere less mundane.

Time indeed to ihgnore the haemorigging of Labour votes to anti-Brexit parties, starting with the Liberal Democrats.

It’s there that the Communist Party of Britain (CPB) has finally found an echo for its Boycott Labour Campaign.

We need a People’s Brexit and a general election that can return a left and Labour government, which can begin to rebuild Britain for the people, not the bankers.

Respect the vote – SUPPORT a ‘People’s Boycott’ on 23 May 2019.

From the self-identifying  “Respect For the Unemployed & Benefit Claimants“.

The Socialist Party, which is thoroughly enjoying its trip away from the harsh world,  says of the European Elections.

Unfortunately, however, at this stage Corbyn and the left Labour leadership are not conveying a clear message to working class voters. A central reason for this is their continued mistaken attempts to compromise with the pro-capitalist Blairite wing of Labour – whether that is the local Labour councils cutting public services, or the Blairite MPs fighting for Labour to be seen as the party which defends the EU bosses’ club.

No mention of the pro Brexit Bosses’ Club.

No mention of the Love Socialism, Hate Brexit campaign which has captured people’s imagination across the left.

On the talks with May they say,

… reports from the talks have focused overwhelmingly on the Blairite demand for a second referendum, inevitably giving the impression to many Leave voting workers that Labour is not fighting in the interests of working class people and is instead focused on ‘reversing Brexit’.

No mention of Remain voting workers or the Remain supporters in the Trade Unions.

No mention of how to vote in the European election.

No mention of the Labour voters going head over fist to the anti-Brexit parties, which some polls suggest have pushed the party into third place.

Or this, somewhat optimistic claim,

A clear and unambiguous pro-Remain position from Labour would give the party a resounding 27% lead over the Conservatives, an 8% lead over the Brexit Party and a 14% increase in their overall vote, new research has revealed.

New European.

But apparently.

Bosses fear revolt against capitalism

At least the People’s Brexit dreamers of Counterfire say,

Tory collapse is only half the story; Corbyn’s Labour needs to sharply recalibrate around anti-austerity and class politics, argues Lindsey German

Farage understands he can only win the level of support he has by channelling the huge amount of anger about the failure to carry out the decision of the referendum. To do so he is prepared to downplay his racism, and he has some cover from erstwhile lefts who now support the Brexit party, but we can be sure that a campaign where he and Johnson are in competition (and with a myriad of fascist and extreme right parties spewing their filth) will have racism and scapegoating at their centre.

……

The only tactical vote is for Labour, because they are the only people who can beat Farage, and the higher Labour’s vote the stronger its left leadership will be. The alternative is strong Lib Dems – which will help Watson and Starmer.

How might they ‘channel’ this anger?

By joining Counterfire’s voyage to a People’s Brexit….

Note, Comrade Keir Starmer’s first appearance as an enemy of the revolutionary socialist groupuscule Counterfire.

The Morning Star with one toe in the carnival of reaction that’s taking place, dismisses worries about the far-right across Europe and Farage’s likely real political impact in the EU.

As indicated in this valuable article:

The far right is no great shakes

The European Union is proving to be a less reliable instrument for resolving contradictions among its member states and competing elites than either centre right, liberal or social democratic opinion has hitherto hoped.

In addition, although these right-wing populists are something of a problem for the big business and finance circles that stand behind the likes of Angela Merkel and Emmanuel Macron they lack the long-term cohesiveness or numbers to reshape the institutions of the EU.

Like those leftwingers who think the EU can be transformed by populating its structures, they too will find out that the real decision-making ever eludes the grasp of forces outside the charmed circle whether they come from the left or the right.

Oddly, or not so oddly given reports that some of the hard line Brexit Bolsheviks will do more than follow the Communist Party of Britain’s call not to vote Labour the editorial concludes,

The populist right – in or out of the EU – cannot meet the needs of working people. Almost uniquely our country has a Labour government in waiting that can.

The Full Brexit, supported by prominent members of the Communist Party of Britain, and ‘Blue Labour’ Family Faith and Flag patriots, not to mention Spiked ex-Revolutionary Communist Party, (and Green Larry O’Nutter, better known under his pen name of Larry O’Hara)  tweets  about this article:

Lee Jones is Reader in International Politics at Queen Mary University of London.

Note these words well,

It is deeply lamentable that this crucial channel for political expression is being supplied by a party led by Nigel Farage. However, the explanation for this lies not with Farage’s unique talents, or the supposed far-right proclivities of millions of British citizens, as many now claim. Farage is only able to claim leadership of a pro-democracy movement because the left has utterly failed to do so. Despite admitting the EU’s many faults and being unable to mount a positive case for it, the left bottled the referendum, clinging to a discredited neoliberal edifice. The opportunity subsequently to return to its foundational principle of democracy and lead Brexit in a progressive direction has been squandered. Most so-called leftists have merely doubled down on their ludicrous insistence that only racists and fascists can oppose the EU.

He continues,

TBP ought to be a left-wing party. By failing to reclaim the banner of democracy from the Eurosceptic right, the left has created the opportunity for Farage to return.

Despite its important short-term contribution, however, in the longer term, it is doubtful whether TBP can help resolve the problems of British political life. While the most obvious limitations stem from its leadership, the deeper problems lie in the populist form of political organisation itself.

Accordingly, whatever Nigel Farage may or may not be, TBP is simply not a “far-right” party. It has only one policy, to defend democracy and uphold the referendum result, and there is no reasonable way to define this policy as “far-right”.

The academic opines that one should approach Farage’s start-up party,

…with a sense of humility and appreciation for the important role TBP is playing in the immediate crisis of British politics.

Jones concludes,

At present, TBP stands exclusively for the enactment of a democratic majority decision – no more, no less. To call this “far right” is hysterical, immoral, and deeply insulting to many millions of people.

The Brexit Party: Creature of the Void

At least the Socialist Workers Party says:

Vote Labour in the European elections – and increase the Tories’ crisis

Hold on…

The next few days matter. Labour could still launch a real fight that brings together the call for an anti-austerity and anti-racist Brexit with action over the NHS, housing, climate chaos and other urgent issues.

Back from the sidelines: