My brief sojourn in the Labour Party had been ‘interesting….’
Recently I received a reminder from the Labour Party that my subscription was due. ‘What a coincidence!’ I replied. ‘I was just about to write to you.’ I explained that, far from owing them anything, I felt I was due a refund.
A brief sojourn in the party had been ‘interesting.’ As attested to by long queues down the street in Whitstable to vote during the disgraceful attempt to oust Jeremy Corbyn as party leader, many people had joined in good faith, hoping that the principles and policies he represents could be actualised; there seemed to be a chance of a new model of leadership and the kind of change which is so desperately needed. Successive Tory and New Labour governments having caused devastating damage, only a radical change of direction could bring about some social and economic justice. This wasn’t utopianism, or uncritical engagement – just a spark of hope in an otherwise bleak political landscape.
Yet the description on membership cards claiming the party to be ‘democratic’ and ‘socialist’ turned out to be misleading: we watched the undemocratic treatment of socialists systematically unfold. Jeremy Corbyn was traduced and vilified not simply by the usual suspects and right-wing mainstream media but by his own party members and representatives. Thousands of people were subjected to McCarthyite purges, their social media accounts trawled through and used against them to subject them to ludicrous false accusations, as the influence of Israeli interests took precedence over due process.
‘My’ own MP, Rosie Duffield, a person with no apparent qualifications for the post when compared with the previous, usurped candidate, dismayed many people by colluding with those trying to undermine Corbyn and being proactive from the start in this reprehensible smear campaign, which was fabricated in order to deflect criticism from Israel for its crimes against humanity and block politicians who actually know something about international politics and have an understanding of the Middle East situation (and therefore threaten the USA/Israel/Britain neo-liberal axis.)
It is not really possible to make sense of the furore around anti-semitism in the Labour Party without knowing the purpose and context of its manufacture: the furthering of Israeli influence on British politics and its cynical strategy of redefining criticism of Israel’s apartheid and atrocities so as to conflate such criticism with racism against Jewish people.
While attempts to hold democratic debate and moves to justifiably criticise or censure her were quashed by authoritarian, top-down machinations, our MP supported the adoption of the risible IHRC definition of anti-semitism, publicly insinuated that the party itself is institutionally anti-semitic, smearing local members with this nefarious accusation. For such reasons and a failure to be accountable to the CLP, it was suggested that she had shown herself to be unfit for positions of responsibility.
Then came the leaked report confirming members’ perceptions, exposing appalling levels of corruption within the Party and that ‘within the Senior Management Team of the Labour party itself there was a secret plot to prevent Corbyn becoming prime minister by ensuring that Labour lost the election. Half of ‘our’ team was actually batting for the other side! … they fuelled the anti-Corbyn propaganda machine, planting stories and misinformation … while their wages were being paid by the subscriptions of party members, the very people who’d elected him as leader.’
As these people had no intention of the Labour Party being either democratic or socialist and indeed made a mockery of the very idea, it seemed that many members had been deceived, and logical therefore that our fees should be returned. As for the people who worked hard to ensure we could not have as PM a person of integrity who might actually put people before profit, try to turn back the tide of privatisation destroying the NHS, halt the horror of austerity, seek justice for Grenfell, stop persecuting people seeking asylum, close down draconian detention centres, restore public ownership, fund housing and education and possibly pursue a foreign policy that showed more solidarity with the oppressed than the oppressors … I’m not, thus far, aware of them being held to account.
As if this wasn’t enough, new leader Keir Starmer declared support for ‘Zionism without qualification’ and made a u-turn on the party conference’s decision regarding Kashmir, another ‘bloody legacy of the British empire.’ Acquiescence to the Board of Deputies’ move to control internal affairs by issuing their ‘ten commandments‘ further revealed a lack of commitment to party democracy, as members had assumed decisions were democratically decided at a conference, not by demands made by external religious bodies.
Adding insult to injury, Starmer commented that a statue of slave trader Colston should not have been pulled down but removed by consent (while disingenuously trying to have it both ways by saying it shouldn’t have been there.) Perhaps he was unaware that Bristolians have long petitioned for its removal but councillors voted repeatedly to keep it in place. For how much longer do people of colour have to ‘go slow’, as the Nina Simone song says, and be expected to heed white supremacist politicians who assume the entitlement to tell them how to seek atonement for the reprehensible history of this country?
Subsequently, we’ve seen the ludicrous but opportunistic sacking of Rebecca Long-Bailey from the shadow front bench, and her replacement by someone who ran Owen Smith’s campaign to displace Jeremy Corbyn as leader, which ‘confirms the total exclusion of the socialist left from leadership positions in the party.’
This sacking provides an opportunity to bash the National Education Union for their position on schools reopening, and betrays the ideals of the 2019 manifesto’s Green New Deal. Backtracking on dealing with climate crisis would have profoundly serious ramifications. We have precious little time left to change our relationship to the land and other species with whom we share the planet, to live responsibly in the recognition that we are just one part of a complex ecosystem. Socialists should act as caretakers, protecting our planet against predation by capitalist profiteers, thinking outside the parameters of private ownership, resource exploitation and conventional agricultural practice, demonstrating the need for reciprocity and sustainability.
The immediate primary effect of the sacking was obviously to contribute to Israel’s continued attempt to suppress discussion of the global military and surveillance collaboration in which its role is key; its weaponry is marketed as ‘field-tested’, using as it does a captive population under siege for ruthless target practice.
Annexation of the Palestinian West Bank is the next step for this brutal regime’s egregious violations of international law, land theft, military occupation and institutionalised racism which has led to increasing support for the call for Boycott, Sanctions and Divestment. Consolidation of Israel’s expansionism would tighten the screw of vicious daily persecution, dispossession and suffering of the indigenous people of Palestine.
An opposition party needs to speak out forcefully and take a stand against this intensification of what Ariella Aïsha Azoulay called, ‘the insane project to destroy Palestine.’ (Potential History – Unlearning Imperialism, Verso 2019). However, Labour doesn’t exactly have a good record when it comes to condemning imperialism, racism, militarism and war; in fact it’s long been seen as a mechanism of the state deployed to co-opt energy and hopes for social and economic justice. Such wasting of radical movements is far from new. The challenge of the Women’s Liberation Movement to the roots of patriarchy and capitalism, e.g., has always to resist being watered down into a diluted faux-feminism, which applauds as positive women being in power simply by dint of their being women, regardless of their politics. This despite the historical examples and legacies of the likes of Thatcher, May, Meir, etc. A feminism without a socialist dimension is as meaningless a dead-end as is the reverse situation, or either movement without a commitment to decolonisation and anti-racism.
In the context of the deadly pandemic wreaking havoc under this Tory government, no-one can doubt that a Corbyn-led one would be enacting totally different policies, and would therefore not have caused the huge numbers of deaths we are suffering due to the criminal negligence of the Tories as they continue to siphon off public money into private pockets, handing out contracts to their cronies. An inescapable conclusion must be that everyone in the Labour Party who worked so hard to prevent a Corbyn-led government from winning the election – the right-wing party machine, treacherous MPs, officers and activists who ensured that even a mildly socialist government could not be elected in this country – must bear some responsibility for the current chaos and terrible, avoidable loss of life.
But the party machine continues to grind on, subjecting people to the nonsensical Kafkaesque witchhunt, demoralising and angering many members, and it will be pleased no doubt that ‘… the net effect … [of removing Long-Bailey] will be the departure of members in huge numbers, which is what one wants if mass membership is considered largely a hindrance and there are national executive committee elections coming up.” (Morning Star, Sunday, June 28, 2020.}
Due respect and good luck to those who in good faith believe they can remain within the Labour Party to change it, but for many people it is an impediment to progress, as irrelevant as the whole Potemkin village of Westminster as a means of bringing about a just society. Instead, the kind of alternatives for urgently needed change are more evident in the grassroots movements such as we see with worldwide environmental, indigenous and feminist activism and the glorious burgeoning of Black Lives Matter (which the hubristic Starmer has managed to insult and misrepresent even as I type.)
Labour being just one arena in which people can strive for political change, for those who choose to bypass such institutions, preferring more imaginative radical forms of resistance, free from the absurd strictures of a party and its control freakery, there is plenty to do. For starters, challenging militarism, racialization, ecocide and misogyny, joining the dots between the intersecting oppressions bedevilling our world, and getting behind the movements resisting them. There’s much cause for continuing optimism about transformative activism, for a hopefulness about building a real opposition.
And so, as I explained in response to the request for payment, I wouldn’t be renewing my membership, hoping to join others contributing in any way possible to fighting racism, patriarchy and capitalism. I didn’t expect a reply, but one came: they don’t offer refunds, and deny anything fraudulent. Unsurprised, I donated what would have been a party membership fee to the Palestine Solidarity Campaign, the organisation which works tirelessly against settler colonialism in support of the quest for justice and human rights.
© Frankie Green, July 2020
Frankie Green lives in Whitstable and has been taking part in various political activities since the 1960s anti-apartheid movement, the Vietnam war, the Gay Liberation Front, the Women’s Liberation Movement and Palestine Solidarity Campaign. She helps run a feminist music archive (https://womensliberationmusicarchive.co.uk) and collects stuff on a blog (https://frankiegreenvariouswritings.home.blog)
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