Thursday 10 March 2016

Expelling Gerry Downing

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.


Boffy said...

In many ways, I think its a bit pointless Marxists and other socialists wasting their time analysing the to's and fro's, waxing and waning or activities of the sects. They are now, and have always been, irrelevant to the class struggle of workers. At best they have been useful fools, prepared to do excessive amounts of leg work for workers during various strikes, in the vain hope of trying to recruit one or two of those workers to their sects, in order to "Build The Party".

But, having watched Downing on TV yesterday what strikes me is the various hypocrisies that exist.

1. The nauseating Phil Collins attacked Downing for his views, but is quite happy to have Tories and Ukippers in the party. It was revealing that he claimed that not only was the LP not committed to replacing Capitalism, but its and the trades unions only function was to "ameliorate" workers condition under capitalism. True, of course, but a rather damning indictment of Blairism when admitted so starkly. Its like a doctor telling a patient, my job is not to cure you, but only ameliorate your suffering, so that you remain dependent on the drugs you have to buy, and paying me for my services! Collins talked about what the LP is, as though it was fixed, seemingly forgetting about what the mission of "New Labour" had been.

2. The various sects complain about being expelled for building their organisation within the LP, but would have no truck with anyone undertaking such action within their own organisations.

3. Opprobrium was heaped on Downing for talking about "military support" for ISIS and other "states" under attack from imperialism. But, imperialism has itself always made such unsavoury alliances. They have talked about this or that dictator they were supporting being a bastard but "our bastard", for example. In the case of ISIS, imperialism and its clients have directly provided military support. All of the jihadists in the area have been given military support by the various Gulf regimes, who in turn get their weapons and training from the US and UK.

Igor Belanov said...

Matters will be so much improved within the Labour Party when no-one is allowed to have an opinion.

Witch-hunts are clearly the healthiest way to real political advance, and not at all a way of aligning the party to the position that the establishment expects from it.

Gary Elsby said...

I don't know whether this guy is a nut or not but what I do know that is if the machine works against you, you're somewhat isolated.
I think it was an Arch Bishop who once said that 'it is not racist to fear [insert fear here]'.
On a personal point, I'm not sure whether the Labour party is best placed, up to now, on what is right or wrong.

On the conspiracy front, I believe that Jesse Ventura, ex- Navy SEAL and former Governor of Minnesota should be heard.
Please view his 'conspiracy theory' on the Twin Towers. He door-steps the deputy Governor of the FBI. " Why do you say you don't have the black boxes and flight recorders, when I know you have them".

Only then can we talk of 'nutters' and sensible people in the same sentence.

Boffy said...

In terms of why Andrew Neill had Downing on his programme, it seems to be part of the way the media are attacking Corbyn. Watching the DP today, they have again had Ben Chatto, from the Morning Star/CPB on to give his opinions. Wny?

The CPB representing less than nothing. But, by having these people like Chatto, or Downing on they thereby ra Corbyn by a process of guilt by association. So, yesterday they chose as background footage a meeting where McDonnell was seated next to Downing.

Marxists and socialists should, of course, oppose expulsions from the party on the basis of "unacceptable" ideas - other than where those ideas are some form of overt racism or fascism - but I see no reason why we should allow the party to be undermined by external sects whose real goal is to destroy the party, and create their own in its place. Not that the latter is ever likely to happen anyway, because the sects are very good at destroying, and very bad at building.

LP members in Momentum, should then also be very cautious about allying themselves with these destructive sects. Some time ago, for example, the AWL in one of its more ultra-left phases, declared the Labour Party to be A Stinking Corpse, and stood their own candidates against it. The fact that they almost immediately then collapsed back into the LP does not change that, it only shows the nature of the AWL as a bureaucratic-centrist sect, which repeatedly Zigs and zags from one position to another, and has to justify it by all sorts of logic chopping, and bureaucratic manouevres.

All of these sects have always had a very limited commitment to the LP, and their activity within it has always been designed around the idea of recruiting members to their own organisation, of internal electoralism, trying to get motions passed at meetings, people elected to positions and so on, rather than real commitment to building the Party, and engaging with its activities. Indeed, it has usually been the case that many of the members of the sects never really engaged in LP activity at all, leaving it to just some of their members.

That Momentum then sees members of these sects that yesterday were outside the Party, have always had a very tangential relation to it, and which have described the party of the workers as "A Stinking Corpse", appears to be a weakness of Momentum. It is a manifestation of the kind of phenomenon described by Trotsky in his History of The Russian Revolution, whereby election to such bodies is more to do with the ability of some to use their own organisation and "sharp elbows" than to any real support short fly by nights have within the class, illustrated by their lack of support when they stand under their own flag.

Anonymous said...

"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."

All they have to look at is Socialist Fight's involvement with the Labour Representation Committee (Chair - John McDonnell) over the years where they have managed to get some rather controversial motions passed.

Here's a Weekly Worker report from the LRC AGM 2012 where Socialist Fight supporters in the Irish Republican Prisoners Support Group put up a controversial proposal (motion 4 see link).

As the report states-

"Opposing motion 4, a comrade from Socialist Appeal warned, should we pass the motion, we would have to call for the release of those who had murdered prison officer David Black, shot while driving to work. Such actions were not part of working class tradition, he claimed. Presumably comrades from the AWL were of a similar opinion: they also voted against. Nevertheless, the motion was passed, by a margin of 52 to 35."

So, what could be seen as a Gerry Downing, pro-Real IRA motion was passed by the LRC AGM 2012, an organisation chaired by John McDonnell. Has anyone told Guido yet?

Graham Durham (LRC London organiser) has also written for Socialist Fight (see link Autumn 2015) and is one of the speakers at their EU Debate on Sunday, March 13.

Finally, Gerry Downing is still the main success story (until recently) for "Stop the Labour Purge". As to how his erstwhile supporters will react to recent events, well all's very quiet among them at the moment.

Let's remember one thing, though. Being expelled from Labour does not stop Gerry Downing and Socialist Fight from participating in either Momentum or, in particular, the LRC. Other non-Labour organisations (e.g. New Communist Party) are affiliated to the LRC. Can you imagine an LRC AGM this year, chaired by John McDonnell, where Gerry and Socialist Fight turn up to put forward motions? Media attention, I'm sure, would be immense.

Before that, though, there is the proposed Momentum Conference. Brent LRC (where Gerry and Graham are based) might well send a couple of delegates.

John R

Boffy said...

The sooner Corbyn and his supporters make LP membership a condition for belonging to Momentum the better. There is absolutely no reason why Marxists should be in favour of such lash-ups, which simply give the sects a credibility they do not deserve.

Trotsky in describing the basis of the United Front, in the early 1920's, set it out like this. The UF was a tactic that was justified by the specific conditions of the time of a potentially global revolutionary situation.

The old mass parties of the working-class were being driven to the left, and new mass communist parties were developing alongside them. The UF was a tactic to hasten that process of moving the workers to the left, and building the communist parties.

Trotsky says that it is applicable where not only is that process of movement to the left, within revolutionary conditions, but only where the communist party itself has the support of around 40% of the workers. If they already have a majority, there is no reason to offer a UF to the old parties, and with less than 40%, there is no reason the old party would agree to a UF with the communists.

But, today not only is their no revolutionary situation, but although their are signs of workers moving left it is certainly not to the extent of adopting a revolutionary outlook. Moreover, rather than having 40% support amongst the workers, the sects have more like 0.4% support. The AWL, which managed to get one of its supporters on to the Momentum National Council, only managed 75 votes for that same member, when they stood in the 2010 General Election!

For LP members in Momentum to ally with these sects is a bit like an elephant proposing to a mosquito joint action to move an obstacle, only to find the mosquito then spends most of its energy sucking blood from the elephant. If the sects want to lend their support to actions initiated by LP members fine, but they should have no role in determining those actions, which grossly exaggerates their significance.

All experience of the past suggests that if Momentum allows the sects to play a role, they will simply destroy it, as each seeks to gain their own advantage within it, discrediting serious socialists within the LP committed to building the Workers Party in the process.

Anonymous said...

I know Gerry D and have warned him that his statements on 'Zionists millionaires' have nothing to do with Abram Leon's Marxist analysis of the Jewish question (as he claims), and are much more akin to the 'world Jewish conspiracy' nonsense, and that he and his pals could end up lining up with some very unpleasant people if they carry on down this road.

On the other hand, I think the attacks by Labour rightists on Gerry D are rather droll, considering that he and his minuscule group have next-to-no influence, whilst they argued for, voted for and -- if in government -- authorised a war that dismembered an entire country, led to thousands of deaths, and helped expand murderous Islamist terrorism.

Dr Paul

AdvanceHeating said...

Gerry's finger pointing at the super rich elite seems spot on, although his preparation & presentation skills are appalling.

The principle of the analysis required is blindingly simple: every debt has an equal & opposite credit, and we have unprcedented levels of worldwide debt. Ergo someone is sitting pretty on unprecedented levels of credit and the question unaccountably ignored by the Government is: Who are they? Why does the media only nag us about raging debt, instead of talking sensibly about the "credit problem"?

If you add up the billions attributed to the entire Sunday Times Rich List, it does not begin to account for the trillions of known debt so this tells us that the major creditors do not appear on that List. We could reasonably assume that they have chosen not to, which leads us to Gerry's inarticulate reference to the elite and their measurable subterfuge. This hidden credit is very real money with very real purchasing power, and a very important topic to bring up in the mainstream news at any opportunity for sure. Congratulations to Gerry for that.

A brief flash of $15 trillion cash is recorded in Hansard as Lord James of Blackheath announced three suspicious $5T transactions distributed to 20 struggling European banks. Go look it up. Why do respectable economic analyses skip this issue?

Yes, Jesse Ventura and Dr Judy Wood do also use hard evidence to point to the grotesque expressions of capitalism and war mongering at the 911 spectacle, where to this day corrupt government organs and the press frantically attempt to sweep he truth back into the sea. Thank God Jeremy appears willing to talk openly and tear this lying apparatus apart a little.

Despite there being evidence a plenty, we need to assemble a barrage well-anchored sound bites for such media moments as these, and I've not yet come across a detailed & impartial analysis of the missing credit. Any leads anyone?


BCFG said...

“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.”

ISIS is the direct product of the US imperialism you now laud as the lord and saviour. Those tens of millions you talk about are cowering as a direct result of the imperialism you support. Let us call that idiot pro imperialism with bells on.

Libya is a basket case because of the imperialism you support. Yet for you imperialism is the answer. And you have the front to use the word idiot anti imperialist.

Your war in Iraq (carried out by the party you support) resulted in one and a half million people fleeing into Syria and living in desperate conditions as refugees. The enlightened folk in Europe can’t accept a few thousand.

What do you know about the blackest reaction? No really, what do you know?

Phil said...

It must be nice to live in a black and white universe with no relationship to the complexity of the real world.

Anonymous said...

Anybody who uses the term 'Jewish Question' is a very worrying individual and clearly is ignorant what it's connotations refer to and of recent history in general.