Thursday, 10 March 2016
I don't recall the last time a micro-sect guru appeared on the BBC's lunch time politics programme to have his views in a seldom-read publication picked over, but it has finally happened. Of course, this does not signal Andrew Neil's conversion to lefty trainspotting, but rather the fact that Gerry Downing has some "forthright views" that were deemed acceptable to allow his admittance to Labour Party membership, before media pressure - and an attack by Dave in the House at yesterday's PMQs - saw his expulsion.
As Trotskyism goes, there is a spectrum that runs from an uncompromising fundamentalism through to revolutionary Keynesians. Gerry's Socialist Fight has always been on the headbanging side of things, and his views haven't moved on at all since he was a regular contributor to the UK Left Network discussion list. But does revolutionary socialism have a place in the Labour Party?
Yes and no. The party has always been a broad church, and to varying degrees revolutionary socialism is a minority pursuit that has always had a place in it. I can think of a number of self-described Marxists holding to the perspective of revolutionary change who've held lay positions in the party and served as councillors, and continue to do so. This is a world of difference from entryists who are part of the party to build their own organisations. Militant had some success in this regard because it presented its politics as not a million miles from the established Labour left. There's little doubt Socialist Fight would ever repeat that because their politics are so mind-bendingly demented. Yet in either case, no organisation should expect to build its own party (or rather, sect) at the expense of another while ensconced in the latter's structures.
These aren't the grounds for Gerry's exclusion, however. Germane here are his comments about Islamic State, the September 11th attacks, and Israel. Of the former two, Gerry is very much an advocate of the most foolish of anti-imperialisms, of putting a plus wherever the US State Department places a minus. The rationale goes all the way back to Trotsky's comments on a hypothetical war between a democratic Britain and a fascist Brazil. As one of the leading imperial powers of the day, from the standpoint of revolutionary politics it was preferable for Britain to lose because victory for Brazil could stir up national liberation struggles in the colonies, as well as weaken one of the chief props of world capitalism. While that had a certain logic to it, Trotsky's argument was time-limited. Applying this position to US involvement in the Syrian civil war is ludicrous, especially as victory for Islamic State would mean tens of millions coming under a regime of the most blackest reaction. Gerry may think US "imperialism" is the greatest threat in the world today, but it's not for people living in IS territory - nor for that matter those cowering under Russian air strikes.
There is an absurd aspect to this as well. Gerry offers IS not political support, but military support. What on Earth does that mean? Not a lot, actually. Jihadis from around the world have provided IS military support by travelling to its territories and taking up arms. I'm not aware of Trotskyists putting together their brigades and putting themselves at the disposal of IS - though there is plenty of evidence of latter day heirs of the International Brigades fighting with the Kurdish YPG. Military support is something super orthodox Trots bang on about, but is something they never follow through with.
And there is Israel, or the "Jewish Question" as Gerry likes to put it. As it happens, I think successive Israeli governments have proven to be grubby, racist, and perpetrators of war crimes in the occupied territories. See, one can be critical of Israel without dog-whistling borderline anti-semitism. Unfortunately for him, Gerry goes far beyond this. In talking of moneyed Jews exerting influence over Western polities, he is treading on dodgy ground indeed. As it happens, Israel does have its supporters - several of them very wealthy - and it does exert a pressure on politics, but Gerry acts as if this is unique and improper. In truth, most countries do exactly the same. The British Council is active in Israel, as are the various equivalents for all of the Western powers. Do they lobby Israeli governments directly and indirectly? Of course they do. While Gerry argues that his claims of "Zionist influence" are the result of a materialist analysis, his hard anti-imperialism cannot acknowledge that his observations are utterly banal.
Banal, but damaging. The problem for Labour is this. Every orthodox Trot in the party with views similar to Gerry's are going to be hunted down and held up to scrutiny, because of Jeremy's record as a seasoned anti-war campaigner. During the Labour leadership contest, several past associations of the leader came to light, and these included conspiracy nuts, anti-semites, and representatives of Hamas and Hezbollah. There are sections of the Tories, the press and, yes, in our own party, who want to associate Jeremy with the sorts of views Gerry Dowling has. And for every Gerry turned up, the more damage is done to his leadership and the party in the eyes of the wider electorate.