By Daniel Round, Clarion editor
Last Thursday (28 Feb), I represented The Clarion at a meeting in Walsall on repealing the anti-trade union laws, organised by the West Midlands Fire Brigades Union. FBU General Secretary Matt Wrack delivered a typically rousing speech, and attendees contributed to a good discussion on the topic. Everyone in attendance received a copy of The Clarion ‘Free Our Unions’ pamphlet, paid for by the West Midlands FBU.
Looming large over the event was the fact that Chris Williamson MP, also speaking on the night, had just a day earlier been suspended by the Labour Party for saying it had been “too apologetic” on the issue of antisemitism. Really, his suspension was the result of months of similarly tone deaf comments and insensitive behaviour – just one dreadful example, praising Vanessa Beeley, a far-right, anti-semitic conspiracy theorist and propagandist for Bashar al-Assad’s blood-soaked dictatorship in Syria.
Members of the local SWP branch were present, handing out printouts of their paper’s ridiculous defence of Williamson. Other attendees expressed their support for him throughout the proceedings, though perhaps not as many as I would have expected. Some stayed behind to take selfies with him after the meeting.
Out of respect for the chair and for the FBU, and not wanting to present Williamson with an opportunity to play the victim and launch his reinstatement campaign, I decided not to take him to task directly in my speech. I think this would have been counterproductive.
Instead, I introduced the Clarion as a network of class struggle, socialist activists in the Labour Party who take the issue of antisemitism on the left seriously. I also closed by briefly highlighting the issue further.
Here’s what I said at the end of my speech, with Williamson listening on:
As far as I can see, there are three main threats to the healthy revival of socialist politics from within the Labour Party. First is the threat coming, obviously, from the right-wing of the party, which has opposed Corbyn since day one.
Second is the timidness among the party leadership and those close to it, and in the wider movement around Jeremy Corbyn. These conservative tendencies have been driven by the “four Ms” (Milne, Murphy, Murray, McCluskey) and by Momentum, which has failed to be the engaging, radical grassroots vehicle we needed. Democratisation of the party and movement has been seriously limited, and party management remains tight. A new form of bureaucratisation has set in.
This all links in with a lack of boldness on policy, not only regarding what we’ve been discussing tonight – with the party committed to repealing only the 2016 Trade Union Act rather than all the anti-union legislation – but also on policy relating to education and the banks. Ten years ago, John McDonnell was right – socialists need to campaign for public ownership and democratic control of the financial sector. Now, we are promised a National Investment Bank. A huge step forward from where we are now, yes – but I think the party could go much further than that.
Third is what I’ll call elements of “reactionary socialism” within the movement. This camp is loyally supportive of the leadership, but now does far more damage to it and to the left than the right of the party could possibly do. It has manifested itself in the Brexit debate, with a new left-nationalism positively calling for borders to go up and for an end to free movement, a workers’ right.
Reactionary socialism is also the force that has driven the antisemitism crisis within Labour. We need to take antisemitism seriously in the party and listen properly to Jewish comrades and others when issues are raised, rather than minimising or dismissing them or writing off complaints as “smears”. We need a serious political education and a consistent class analysis to combat antisemitism, both inside and outside the party. People are hurting, and this has gone on far too long – we need to put an end to it.
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