Thursday, 28 March 2019

Adios

Many years ago I was a somewhat inactive member of a small, ultra-left group. In the flesh they were nice, supportive and very comradely. And thanks to their then relatively well-known publication, had built up a sizeable readership covering disputes inside other far left organisations. They also had a logical and consistent project: the refoundation of the Communist Party of Great Britain, and the route to success was principled unity between the main fragments of the revolutionary left. Their vision of the CPGB was a democratic centralist party along the lines of what the Bolsheviks were prior to the 10th Congress of the Russian Communist Party. That is a party united in action but operating with a culture of open debate and polemic, replete with factions and the rest. This proved an attractive proposition to a layer of militants, and indeed the cpgb - for it is they - were able to build up some political capital among the wider left as advocates for the Socialist Alliance movement, if it can be called that, in the late 90s and early 00s.

I took out membership in 2001 (I think), and by that point had been reading the Weekly Worker for four years. Unfortunately, it soon became apparent there was a weird cycle in the group's behaviour: they would undertake an initiative, attract a bit of interest, and then quickly piss it up the wall with ridiculously provocative behaviour. In the first issues I read, they were debating their impact on the 1997 referendum campaign for setting up the Scottish parliament. Rather than voting no or yes, they set up their own outfit (the Campaign for Genuine Self-Determination) and advocated an active boycott of the polls. A bit of interest was generated, and their small nucleus of organisation north of the border looked poised to fill out beyond the two members of its "Scottish Committee". The cpgb were also advocates for the then Scottish Socialist Alliance (centered on Scottish Militant Labour, which later became the Scottish Socialist Party), but very quickly spoiled their relations with SML and other leftists. This was because in their polemics they insisted on characterising SML comrades as national socialists. Not in the Nazi sense, of course, but as leftists committed to a variance of socialism-in-one-country-ism. Naturally, SML'ers were not impressed, and neither was the core of the cpgb's outfit in Scotland - especially when group guru Jack Conrad, in the most tone deaf manner imaginable, defended its use as perfectly reasonable and had a healthy pedigree among the grey beards *innocent face*. Burnout was one reason why the Scottish comrades decamped, but neither was it helped by their having to face animosity from their would-be partners and allies on the left.

Later on, as new comrades were attracted to the 'party' via their unity work they would drop polemical bombs almost designed to test newcomers' loyalties. One particularly egregious example was a bizarre obsession with the abolition of the age of consent laws, which caused no end of grief for the new comrades it had not long recruited on the infamous UK Left Network. Or unnecessarily spiky polemics. Or one bizarre episode where left unity feelers between the cpgb and the Alliance for Workers Liberty - ostensibly organised around the same 'open' principles - were destroyed because of a mix up over a billing at a public meeting attended by one man and his dog in a church hall in Leeds, an episode which saw the cpgb lose members to the AWL. This cycle, which I saw repeated a couple of times after I left before losing interest in their doings was typical of a certain kind of behaviour you see on some parts of the far left: provocation, boneheadedness, and a complete absence of tactical and strategic nous. No wonder the likes of the cpgb are no bigger now than 20 years ago.

This brings us to the case of Jackie Walker, who has just received her marching orders from the Labour Party. This has caused a bit of a flap with declarations of solidarity on Twitter and all kinds of hand-wringing. Some of that support, shall we say, should set alarm bells ringing. But let's be honest and get real. The behaviour of "comrade" Walker has been harmful to the Corbyn project.

Walker has been expelled on the grounds of "prejudicial and grossly detrimental behaviour against the party". In case you need reminding, this isn't because she "criticised Israel" or some such nonsense, but because she has taken part in deliberately provocative and damaging behaviour. Imagine turning up at an event designed to tackle anti-semitism at Labour Party conference and, in full glare of the hostile media spotlight, to argue the toss over who Holocaust Memorial Day should be commemorating. Or pretending her dog-whistling comments about Jews financing the slave trade were entirely innocent and academic. And there's stuff that weren't heard in the charges against her, like attacking Momentum's decision to campaign against Gilad Atzmon, weird conspiracy theorising on public fora about Jon Lansman and his, nudge nudge, puppet mastery and "links" to Tel Aviv, defending Ken Livingstone's comments about Zionism, and the rest. While Walker has subsequently attracted a great deal of racist abuse herself, none of that excuses the fact that she has used her position, first as vice chair of Momentum, and then as a person of interest in Labour's anti-semitism wars, to ratchet up the tension, deepen controversy and damage the party and movement she supposedly cares about. This is not the behaviour of someone who wants to be helpful to the left, and certainly not of anyone deserving our solidarity against disciplinary action by the party.

The truth of the matter is ultra lefts of the Walker stripe are irritants at best and, at worst, useful idiots for the enemies of Corbynism and the labour movement. Funnily - and coincidentally - the cpgb and Walker happen to co-habit the same micro-campaign, Labour Against the Witch-Hunt. Birds of a feather and all that. As sectarians in the truest sense, their cracked ideas and provocations are far more important than the collective and the common approach. If they do know how badly their actions and behaviour reflects on and exasperates their comrades, they don't care. Winding their necks in and behaving responsibly, of trading in the infantile politics of provocation for the grown-up politics of persuasion is, it seems, far too much to ask and expect. Fine. People are quite welcome to peddle their incontinent narcissism as they always have done - just not in the Labour Party.

28 comments:

Unknown said...

Er, she didn't turn up at the Labour conference and argue her case 'in the full glare of the media spotlight', she was secretly filmed and the recording was deliberately released as a 'gotcha'.

Secondly, her comments on Jews being involved with financing the slave trade weren't dog-whistling at all, they were made in a one to one conversation with a friend on Facebook.

You have to understand Jackie's viewpoint, she is aware of the fact that she has black heritage, Jewish heritage and she has ancestors who were involved in the slave trade. She also happens to be anti-Zionist.

Her various comments and discussions represent her own attempts to make sense of this past and set of beliefs and the result is that, as an uppity black woman she was told to shut up. She understandably has not taken to that so well.

In the context of an institutionally racist Labour Party (against black people and Palestinians) her displeasure that HMD's arbitrary inclusion of only genocides including and post Shoah, thus conveniently leaving out the huge African Genocide at the hands of Europeans (among others) is entirely understandable. For her to be condemned for making this entirely reasonable point is racist against her and black people in general.

You might want to take a look at the Labour Party sometime, especially from the viewpoint of how it must look from the point of black people or, dare I say it, Palestinians and their sympathisers. Where is Dianne Abbot's special debate in Parliament about the racism she has been subjected to? Where have all the black councillors gone? Why is an unapologetic racist hate group in the form of Labour Friends of Israel allowed to sponsor colonialist bills aiming to control what goes into Palestinian textbooks? How has the Party managed to adopt a definition of anti-Semitism that precludes any Palestinian members from describing the occupation of their own party? How can jess Phillips get away with saying that tweeting 'Palestine Lives' is anti-Semitic without it even raising a comment?

These are serious issues and I'm sorry if it's inconvenient for one woman to bring some of them out into the open but to silence her for it is undeniably racist.

Simon Reacher said...

Started off as an interesting anecdote about the asshattery of the far left, then veered off into poorly argued almost as hominem attacks on Jackie Walker without particularly making the case for persuasion.

Is it true that Jackie walker and the people like Chris Knight around the Radical Anthropology Group are of dubious Politics and logic? Yes. Is that relevant? No. To raise walkers shortcomings in the context of the attacks on the left and anti-Semitism smears is frankly pathetic and contributes nothing to educating people out of this situation.

I don't think you ever addressed the facts, as shown in The Lobby by Al Jazeera, about Israeli influence a d spying in domestic UK politics. The actual Palestinian solidarity activists and movements, which presumably you have support for,condemn walkers expulsion because they see this correctly as setting out a campaign to destroy Corbyn and left.

Dr Quelch said...

An ill-informed farrago, worthy of State Prosecutor Vyshinsky, but of nobody else.
Delta triple minus. Try harder.

Phil said...

Let me get this right then. Because the Labour Party is institutionally racist, because the Israel lobby is a politically powerful force, and because Walker has critiqued both she should get a free pass for childish antics and behaviour that makes life significantly more difficult for the project she is supposedly aligned with? Sorry, no. If an enemy is pointing a gun at you it's the height of stupidity to supply them with ammunition.

As for Jess Phillips et al, yes, they do far more damage than the likes of Walker. It's hardly as if I've been quiet about their stupidities these last few years. But you know what, most people can walk and chew gum at the same time. Walker's behaviour is typical of a strand of far left narcissism, and just because right wing Labour MPs regularly scab on the party and the movement doesn't mean a diplomatic silence should be observed over idiots on the left.

Phil said...

I like a trip down Sectarian Memory Lane, and it's always good to be reminded of Chris Knight's existence. When it comes to Jackie Walker, though, I'm afraid this post strikes me as written in bad faith, for two reasons. Firstly, I don't see any acknowledgement that Jackie Walker is of Jewish heritage. Accusing a Jewish woman of antisemitism is an absurdity - you can't other yourself (or not without huge psychic strain). It's true that antisemitic tropes are antisemitic tropes whoever voices them; quite a number of people need to be more careful with their language. But "arguing that Jews can also be racists" and "arguing, as a Jew, that Jews can also be racists" are two very different things, and the widely repeated assertion that Walker is guilty of the first of these says nothing good about those repeating it.

You could argue that this is beside the point where your post is concerned, as (secondly) you charge Walker not with antisemitism but with indiscipline, not being a good comrade, radical narcissism, fundamentally Not Helping. There's some truth in that, and perhaps a properly-functioning Labour Party would discipline, even expel, people on those grounds. But that's not what Walker was disciplined for; it's telling that even your account of her indisciplined behaviour leans heavily on tendentious and sometimes downright inaccurate accounts of her supposed antisemitism. And if we were expelling people for narcissism and obstructing the project - good grief, where would we start? Not, I suggest, with some activist who nobody outside her local and political neighbourhood had heard of before she tangled with the JLM.

Shai Masot said...

Appalling post.

Unknown said...

I think the tone of this piece is misjudged, as many people reading it would need exactly the type of 'persuading' that it says far-left people are often bad at.
Some proportion of readers will be sympathetic to Jackie Walker's position, and not appreciate the kind of mouthing off that we chuckle at when it's against Tories or TiGs.

For what it's worth, I haven't looked into to it too deeply, by I was sympathetic to JW (yet I still thought storming out of her own hearing was counter-productive, her lawyers were there to present her case).

Maybe you're absolutely right Phil, maybe she does deserve your scathing putdowns (I haven't got the time to thoroughly fact-check). But perhaps you can you approach it with more care for comrades' feelings next time?

If she had come to you and said "Phil, these points I want to make are desperately important to me, but I don't want to damage the Corbyn project, how should I go about it?", what would you say? How would you phrase it in a kind way?

Phil said...

Perhaps it reflects my exasperation on the indulgence of people like Walker. Remember, she is not unique. They are *plenty* of "comrades" just like her on the left, and I've had a bellyful of them.

As for Walker's actual disciplining, it was exactly because she brought the party into disrepute that saw her drummed out. She wasn't particularly influential and virtually no one had heard of her before all this, but once anti-semitism became a hot potato she acted to ramp it up and pour petrol on the flames. She allowed herself to become proof of Labour's anti-semitism problems, and revelled in it.

davidjc said...

Hardly indulged! She’s been on the rack for nearly three years.
Who decides who is guilty of self-indulgence/bringing party into disrepute?
The secretive disciplinary panel, which is then influenced by noises off, which in these case has meant our Zionist and Blairite enemies.
Or:
“Corbynista journalist calls anti Semitic group ‘logical and consistent’.
Former hardline Communist Phil BC has reignited the Labour anti semitism scandal by praising his old extreme left comrades, who argue Israel should be wiped off the map.
BC, an influential columnist and darling of the left wing ‘alt’ media, acknowledged Labour’s problem with Jews, but his continuing indulgence of his anti Semitic old pals drew stinging rebukes from Labour Friends of Israel.”

Phil said...

I dunno. Raising quibbles around the commemoration of Holocaust Memorial Day in the middle of an anti-semitism storm at a meeting specifically addressing anti-semitism in the Labour Party is pretty stupid and self-indulgent. If there is no anti-semitism in the party, like Walker and her LATW comrades claim, then giving credence to charges is hardly the best way of refuting them.

davidjc said...

See they’ve now turned this into an anti John Mcdonnell scam. Should he be booted out too for recklessly attending and being sympathetic to Walker at the LRC?

Anonymous said...

Walker is a horrific, rancid anti-Semite.

The evidence for this is incontrovertible and overwhelming. I mean, "Jews were behind the slave trade" FFS!

(and being "of Jewish heritage" in no way negates the above - anybody who doubts this just needs to look at Gilad Atzmon)

Absolutely true that there is a vociferous and influential current of opinion that attempts to cast all criticism of the state of Israel or Zionism as "anti-Semitic". There are also those who have tried to weaponise the AS issue within the Labour party in the most cynical and insincere way. But as our blogger says, it is possible to do more than one thing at the same time. The *genuine* instances of AS on the left need to be called out and dealt with firmly and without sentimentality. And yes, this is one of them.

Phil said...

Obviously not, David, because he was sticking up for Walker as a victim of racist abuse.

Again, walk and chew gum. Walk and chew gum.

John said...

A good summary of the problem we face. Political mavericks have to learn that its not all about them.

Jason said...

This post is bullshit. I have enjoyed reading your blog, but enough.

John Smith said...

I really do enjoy your blog Phil, its one of the first things I turn to on the internet, but this piece comes across as tabloid speak and in the way it is presented it distorts the Facts.

It is not that you can not have an opinion on Jackie Walker, but to present one that only tells the truth on a most basic level and then to mislead as to the original incedents that saw her suspended is nothing short of MSM tactics.

Thought better of you Phil and I suspect you know that you are being disingenuous and that makes it all the worse.

Jackie Walkers first crime was to question the ethics of the IHRA definition and that is the route cause of her removal from the party, and I for one agree with her.
I joined the Labour party because of Corbyn, I left because of a clearly corrupt machinery in the party and while I will almost certainly vote for Corbyn it will be in the knowledge that the party I am voting for is corrupt in many ways.

One more thing She is a Jewish lady so you are casting her as a self hating Jew, Bad form Phil

Johny Conspiranoid. said...

Which expulsions didn't you approve of?

Unknown said...

"...she should get a free pass for childish antics and behaviour that makes life significantly more difficult for the project she is supposedly aligned with?"

Er, plenty of people have been given such a free pass. In Luciana Berger's case she was rewarded with quasi Princess Diana status, keeping it despite since going a funny tinge.

As for Margaret Hodge, her getting away with appalling behaviour is due to nothing more than the fact that she's Jewish yet this is not a luxury afforded to Jackie Walker, I wonder why?

"Raising quibbles around the commemoration of Holocaust Memorial Day in the middle of an anti-semitism storm at a meeting specifically addressing anti-semitism in the Labour Party is pretty stupid and self-indulgent."

I'm sorry, raising the fact that HMD arbitrarily chooses 1940 as its start date for genocides to be marked, neatly avoiding bringing up Europeans' ravaging of Africa is 'self indulgent'? Black people being unhappy at having to stand idly by while their holocaust is ignored is 'self indulgent'?

This is a disciplinary case where a witness statement saying "I'm unhappy at her obsession with the African holocaust" was used AGAINST the black person subjected to it, does that not even bother you?

And how many people are likely to be disciplined for the abuse Jackie was subjected to? She was subjected to anti-Black racism (see above witness quote) as well as anti-Semitism, intersecting with the repeated claims that she isn't Jewish due to an underlying belief that Jews aren't black. Nobody will be held to account for this.

Your post is further evidence that the Labour Party operates to a hierarchy of racism just as Jackie has claimed and been ridiculed for, one in which black people are expected to both put up and shut up.

Anonymous said...

I agree with much of what you write, Phil. I have held out a lot of hope for the Corbyn project, and still do. But the self-destructive behaviour of many on the "Left" - something you address well in your points before your coverage of Jackie Walker - is legendary, and isn't going to disappear overnight. For some, it somehow seems much better to see a Far Right-tinged Tory Government than to let go of an opportunity to divide the Left. And there can be no doubt that a majority Tory Government, run by and for the likes of Steve Baker or Mark Francois, is a strong possibility. Labour is behind in the polls, and should be 20% ahead. This could be a final chance, but Labour is, as ever, messing it up.

Anonymous said...

The "Labour should be 20% ahead" trope is deeply profoundly dishonest, and is strongly suggestive of the claimant being an insincere bulls***er.

That is all.

Ian Gibson said...

"Walker is a horrific, rancid anti-Semite.

The evidence for this is incontrovertible and overwhelming. I mean, "Jews were behind the slave trade" FFS!"

Except that isn't what she said. Now, in fairness, 1) what you've quoted is what was widely reported that she said, and 2) what she did say was only a few words different, but those few words change the meaning of that sentence completely (the relation of 1 to 2 is of course entirely non-accidental.) What she actually said was "‘many Jews, my ancestors too, were among the chief financiers of the sugar and slave trade" (my bold.) An entirely unremarkable statement, suggesting as it does that some Jews behaved just like everyone else, and entirely historically uncontroversial.

Anonymous said...

So what was the point of saying it at all??

Unknown said...

"So what was the point of saying it at all??"

She said it as part of a long conversation with a friend on Facebook. Again, the media has often portrayed it as if she suddenly announced it out of the blue with fanfare. And it's exactly the sort of thing a black woman, who also has Jewish heritage and ancestors who were in the slave trade, would probably feel the need to talk about once in a while as it's quite understandable that she has a whole mixture of feelings about it.

Boffy said...

So, I'm curious then Phil. Perhaps using the logic you have applied here, you could answer these questions.

1. Were the Stalinists then right to attack Trotsky and the Left Opposition for pointing out the unfolding counter-revolution that was happening in Russia, because such criticism was "self-indulgent", at a time when Russia was under threat from imperialist powers?

2. Given the extent of widespread Islamophobia in society, were the SWP right some years ago to attack Searchlight, and others anti-fascists, who said that it was necessary to also address the issue of grooming of young girls by mainly gangs of Pakistani men in some Northern towns and cities? Was concern for the rights of young women simply self-indulgent, at a time when it was necessary to oppose Islamophobia?

3. When the SWP/Respect went along with requirements for men and women to be separated at various meetings, were they right to do so, because defending women's rights was self-indulgent, at a time when their main concern was to oppose Islamophobia?

4. Indeed, is it self-indulgent to raise the question of women's rights in general, as being something that has to be defended, as against the mysoginist nature of Islam, and indeed other religions, and cultures, in order to prioritise the fight against xenophobia, and in defence of "multiculturalism?

5. Is it self-indulgent to oppose for example, female genital mutilation, because it is practiced by particular ethnic groups, and so to do so, would encourage racism as regards those particular groups.

I can understand where the roots of your position comes from having previously been a member of the Socialist Party, because the Workerist nature of both the Militant and the SWP has always meant that they were prepared to throw various minorities under the bus, in order to promote their chances with some other minority from whom they hoped at the time to secure support and recruits so as to "build the party". Its why both those organisations in the 1970's abandoned their positions on Ireland, when those positions threatened to hamper their attempts to recruit British workers, who reacted to IRA terrorism.

It wasn't a principled position then, and it isn't now. It should indeed be possible to walk and chew gum at thee same time, which means that being against anti-Semitism does not mean throwing other minorities and their oppression under the bus to do so. Its not only possible, but necessary to do both.

Anonymous said...

Whoever posted this "The "Labour should be 20% ahead" trope is deeply profoundly dishonest, and is strongly suggestive of the claimant being an insincere bulls***er." needs to explain what they are on about. Opposition parties that are not well ahead in the polls mid-term rarely win subsequent general elections. So it seems unlikely that Labour will win the next GE unless there are major shifts in support. I wish that were not so. As the late ungreat ghastly Hughie Green would have said "And I mean that most sincerely folks".

Anonymous said...

Let me respond to Boffy:

“were the SWP right some years ago to attack Searchlight, and others anti-fascists, who said that it was necessary to also address the issue of grooming of young girls by mainly gangs of Pakistani men”

On balance they were right for 2 main reasons,

1. we literally never get calls for white society to be addressed despite their centuries long abuses on both the personal and individual level

2. As some academic studies have shown, and which Boffy is totally ignorant of, the fact of them being Pakistani is probably less of a factor than they are either taxi Drivers or work in fast food outlets. The importance of this? Well this is when the girls were out and about, because mainly these girls lived not during the day but at night, for a variety of reasons (mainly because white society had utterly failed them!). So these men had the opportunity, and it was more to do with their occupation than their skin colour or ethnic background. Other than racist white society insisting dark skinned people do these type of jobs!

It really never ceases to amaze how Boffy pontificates on every subject, even the ones he knows nothing about!

I do think all values are open to criticism, for example Islam, Judaism, Christianity and we shouldn’t let witch hunts get in the way, though I can’t recall the witch hunts against Islamophobes to be honest.

But I won’t let the canard of anti Semitism stop me from criticising the white supremacists of Israel treating Palestinians like ducks in a shooting gallery. Let us call it high tech genital mutilation shall we!

If Boffy can indulge in some Muslim bashing, allow me indulge in some white bashing.

What are white Western values?

White people dominate the world and this proves white people are superior

Consume with no regard to the affect of your consumption

Plundering the resources of what we consider backward peoples is solid economics

Never include in your economic statistics the wages of the people who actually produce all the goods

Making great swathes of the planet uninhabitable for people is ok if it means I can watch TV in every room

When making great swathes of the planet uninhabitable make sure these victims do not get to our shores, heaven forbid they share in the resources we plunder and pollute our higher values

I wish I was a £ behind Sir Philip Green

Things are more precious than poor people

Poor people deserve what they get

Bomb first and ask questions later

We take great pride in our bombs, our bombs again prove we are superior

Genital mutilation is a sign of backward people, while Carpet bombing is a sign of civilised and well educated people

Therefore genital mutilation is bad and carpet bombing is good

Dark skinned people are fit for sleeping in the streets and washing cars but not much else

If children are homeless and addicted to drugs this is ok but they better not have sex

Morally a MacDonald’s is better than a woodland

Critique thoroughly all values except your own

Johny Conspiranoid. said...

And even if she is everything you say, is the response proportionate?

Anonymous said...

Oh I forgot one of the key tenets of White Western values,

Blacks can't farm