The Socialist Labour Network: A Step Forward for the Left

On 14th January the inaugural meeting of the Socialist Labour Network took place, in a virtual meeting online on Zoom, which allowed attendance from all over the country and indeed from as far afield as Australia. The SLN is the name that was chosen by the membership of the unifying group at the meeting in a democratic vote, in which many possibilities were put forward. The 140-or-so attendees also voted to elect a new steering committee, as expected.

The new organisation represents a merger of Labour Against the Witchhunt (LAW) with the Labour In Exile Network (LIEN). This was simply a logical progression, as the Starmer leadership had proscribed both organisations (along with the Resistance Movement founded by Chris Williamson) as their campaign against the left grew more and more frenzied last year.  It is not even possible to campaign openly against the witchhunt in Labour due to its domination by far-right Zionist racists, led by Starmer: therefore, the perspective of running a network of expelled and driven-out Labour ex-members (and others) won out over the idea of pretending to be able to propagandise ‘against the witchhunt’ within Labour when the leadership no longer permits such advocacy. In this situation the only realistic way to punish Starmer and his cohorts is through external war against them, supplemented by internal guerilla actions when possible.

There are plenty of grounds for socialists and anti-racists to wage a public war against Starmer. He has conspicuously abandoned virtually every mendacious promise he made to get elected, lyingly claiming to be for ‘unity’ with the supporters of Corbyn, including promises to demand nationalization of privatised utility companies, promises to increase taxes on the wealthy, reversing cuts to corporation tax, to repeal anti-Union laws (not even all of Thatcher’s laws but just the most recent), all of which have been junked. They were mild social-democratic reformism in any case, but in a neoliberal Tory Party mark 2, they are no-nos.

Instead of this, Starmer has launched the biggest war against the party’s left in its entire history, targeting for expulsion not merely small groups of ‘Trotksyists’ and the like but the mainstream Labour left, all the way to Jeremy Corbyn himself, who has been effectively expelled from the PLP as a way to try to stop him from standing for parliament in the next election. Coupled with this, Starmer has elevated Jewish and white supremacists above oppressed ethnic minorities in his supposedly ‘anti-racist’ party, creating a hostile environment for blacks and Muslims, left-wing Jews and indeed anyone who is not prepared to grovel to the far-right racists and ‘former’ Israeli intelligence operatives and paid advocates such as Ashraf Kaplan, Luke Akehurst and Wes Streeting who now have a commanding role in Labour.

The ‘Labour’ leader has publicly stated his support for Zionism “without qualification” – that is, for the ideology of violent Jewish racists who expelled three quarters of the Palestinian Arab civilian population from their homeland in the 1948 war. This was accompanied by massacres such as Deir Yassin and Tantura, where Zionist troops have now admitted to murdering many Arab civilians and burying them in a mass grave on a beach, after decades of denial and smearing of those who said that a massacre took place at all. To Starmer and his handlers/minions, for members to raise such things is simply an opportunity for Starmer to throw them out with the increasingly bizarre and discredited accusation of ‘anti-Semitism’.

Labour Against the Witchhunt was a prominent and quite prestigious campaigning body that was founded at the end of 2017/beginning of 2018 in the context of accelerating purges of prominent left-wing Labour members, such as Ken Livingstone, Jackie Walker, Marc Wadsworth, Tony Greenstein, and many more, whom the Corbyn leadership refused to defend in a politically cowardly appeasement of Zionists, despite Corbyn’s previous long history of often outspoken advocacy of equality and democratic rights for Palestinians. Once he became leader, he became preoccupied with maintaining ‘unity’ with his enemies in the PLP, and so one left-wing victim after another was thrown under the bus by Corbyn, who simply refused to defend these people, even when he himself became a target of mendacious allegations, as when the affair of the Mear One mural, originally in 2012, was taken up by the Jewish Chronicle. This led to the calling of a Zionist demonstration against Corbyn that mobilised notoriously racist and bigoted figures like Norman Tebbit and David Trimble to demonstrate against the left while pretending in some way to be opposing racism. A sick joke.

Derelictions of LAW: Roots of the Current Situation

But even as it began to get underway, LAW showed fatal weakness. Another prominent leftist excluded from the Labour Party quite early on was Gerry Downing of Socialist Fight, which was our political predecessor. He was initially excluded at towards the end of 2015 by the early inquisition against alleged ‘entryists’ in the Labour Party because his Twitter profile had highlighted his position as a worker -Trotskyist who sought the overthrow of capitalism. In common with others, he was then reinstated as part of the Corbynites’ early counterthrust. But then his case was picked up by the Tories and he was denounced by David Cameron in the House of Commons for an article he had written that refused to condemn the anti-imperialist motives of the 9/11 hijackers. Cameron then picked up on this formulation and sought to scandalize the Labour Party as having an Al Qaeda apologist in their midst. In fact, the comrade’s article did not support terrorist actions at all but was a polemic in favour of trying to win militants away from such methods to Marxism, while showing empathy with the motives that impelled them to such errors in the first place. But at that denunciation by Cameron the LP apparatus panicked and re-excluded him within hours.

Shortly afterwards, Socialist Fight’s analysis of Zionism and the Jewish Question was picked up by the right-wing Tory blogger Guido Fawkes (Paul Staines) and caricatured in classic Zionist manner as an attack on Jewish people. Instead of what it is and was, a historical materialist analysis of the roots of disproportionate Zionist power in the old imperialist countries, characterizing the Zionist lobby/caste as representing an independent imperialist faction loyal to Israel based on racist, ethnocratic and racial supremacist politics. The factual basis of this is simply irrefutable: the numerical overrepresentation of Jews in the bourgeoisie is simply a linear consequence of the well -documented and theorized role of Jews over more than 1000 years of existence, as a commercial people-class in medieval society before capitalism. But with the rise of Zionism to dominance among Jewish politics, this has provided the material basis for a powerful faction within the West European and North American imperialist states whose main loyalty is to Israel as their ‘own’ transplanted imperialist state. This explanation of the power of the Israel lobby to force often virtually uncritical support for outrageous Israeli crimes against the Palestinians as policy of Western powers, and to attack the democratic rights of defenders of the Palestinians in the West, is not refutable by debate for the factual basis of it is clear and easy to prove beyond all doubt.

But for Zionists, to mention these facts is anathema, even worse than the capital crime in the IHRA fake definition of ‘anti-Semitism’ of saying that Israel is a ‘racist endeavour’. The hysterical smear is that merely to mention such facts is the same as echoing the Protocols of Zion. But in fact, the Protocols of Zion are a malicious caricature of Zionism concocted by genuine anti-Semites. They falsely portray the manipulative activities of early Zionists to try to secure for Jews the chance to join the colonial-oppressor fraternity, as some sort of all-encompassing plot involving all Jews in a plan for world domination. Whereas in fact Zionism at that point was the creed of a tiny minority of Jews, and its activities were limited to lobbying the great powers to allow them to steal a piece of land from a colonized people, preferably in Palestine but at one point part of what is now Kenya was mooted. This was conceived of as a place to build their own imperialist enclave in a parallel manner to the racist conquests of the likes of Cecil Rhodes in Southern Africa. Such an enclave is what Israel has been from its creation.

The response of the leadership of LAW, particularly the CPGB but also its then ally, Tony Greenstein, when this full-blooded Marxist critique of Zionism was lambasted by the bourgeoisie and its minions, was similar to that of Corbyn. They tried to throw our comrades under the bus and expel us from Labour Against the Witchhunt. But they had a hard time doing this and it has caused them problems ever since. The CPGB underline their third-camp politics every time they justify our January 2018 expulsion from LAW, but actually they lost the vote when the issue was first discussed at an LAW meeting in December 2017. They had to engage in a national mobilisation of all the capitulationist forces they could gather from the left to defeat us. Including elements such as supporters of the United Secretariat who are so soft on imperialist ‘humanitarian intervention’ that they applauded the imperialist ‘liberation’ of Libya and urged similar things in Syria. And in fact, the upshot was that the CPGB and its allies unconvincingly won the vote by approximately 2-1, against an obviously smaller and newer group, which is no moral victory at all. More an embarrassment.

The problem they have is that many members and ex-members of the Labour Party under Corbyn have extensive and bitter experience of the Zionist lobby and its poisonous influence and are not inclined to rubbish a materialist analysis such as ours that explains how it acquired the power to wreck such a left-wing development in the British labour movement as Corbynism. So, our views on Zionism get a hearing and a considerable echo among the more serious anti-Zionists among the ex-Corbynite diaspora, who are trying to create a new left formation in various ways in difficult conditions after some defeats, not to mention the pandemic. Comrade Greenstein, who is organically part of that ex-Labour militant layer, has had to adapt to that and in fact invited us to join electronic forums of Labour Against the Witchhunt in 2021 that he had had our predecessor group thrown out of more than three years earlier. His strong anti-Zionism, although flawed, always sat uneasily with the third-campism of the CPGB in any case, expressed in such things as the CPGB’s refusal to defend the elected Hamas-led Palestinian government against the Israeli-backed coup by the stooge Abbas in 2007, or its refusal to back Iraqi resistance to the US/British invasion in 2003, both motivated by crude Islamophobia. Such things sit uneasily with Tony’s politics, to say the least.

The CPGB, on the other hand, have expressed in their paper considerable hostility to the strong anti-Zionist sentiment that permeates the left-Corbynites (see letter, below), and logically this, and not any bullshit about ‘principles’ regarding supporting Labour (which contradicts what they did 20 years ago in the last – Blair – period of openly neoliberal Labour leadership), explains their cowardly and sectarian running away from engaging with the formation of the SLN, which logically will find itself allied with militants in the Resistance Movement and others seeking to create an alternative to Starmer’s Labour.

SLN and Shadow CLPs

Roger Silverman

The fused organisation does have a strategy and tactics of a sort. It involves splitting the labour movement from the neoliberals and refounding a labour party based on basic class independence. It leaves open the question of what happens to the official Labour Party and treats that as secondary to creating a real mass labour party. It is not a strategy for a revolutionary party, but it could be a step towards that. Its main theorist is Roger Silverman, a leading member of the ‘Shadow CLP’ in Newham, East London, which has gained the support of many left-wing activists from Labour when the Starmerites suspended the local Labour Parties because of the strength and defiance of the left. This local ‘Shadow’ Labour Party has maintained its activism and acts in complete defiance of the local Starmerite hacks and stooges. This is a correct strategy and tactics and poses defiance without running away from the battle with the enemy. He summarized his thinking in a recent Facebook post:

“The long-overdue historic split in the Labour Party is taking place at an unusually slow, uneven pace due to the paralysis of the official left, but it’s happening all over at a local grass-roots level. It’s not enough to take a snapshot and say: “what split?”; we have to see the process in perspective.

“An alien Tory clique now has the party by the throat. The official party membership, finances and voting figures are haemorrhaging. Only a couple of years ago, Labour was a mass party of half a million people, most of whom enthusiastically supported the socialist policies of Corbyn; most of those have dropped away from active involvement – but they have not disappeared.

“In my borough Newham there are now two quite separate Labour parties: the MPs, councillors and mayor on the one side, and the active campaigning membership on the other, now constituting itself as Newham Socialist Labour. And the same class split is taking place, albeit slowly and unevenly, in many areas all over the country. Inevitably, we’ll see similar groups springing up and establishing a network which will be the embryo of a mass socialist movement.

“A crucial factor in the mix is the explicit intention of the leadership to weaken or cut outright the trade union link; it is significant that several major unions have already drastically cut their financial contributions to the party.

“Autonomous socialist Labour groups are springing up; the unions are paring down their affiliation fees. The split is tortuous and protracted due to a lack of central leadership, but at a certain point there will inevitably be cracks at the top too. When the party regime engineers the deselection of some left MPs, that will spur them into bolder action. And if Jeremy Corbyn runs as an independent candidate at the next election, with thousands of enthusiastic canvassers he’ll win a landslide victory. That too would further encourage the development of a mass left breakaway.

“The situation is buzzing with opportunities.”

This is a reasonable and viable tactical option, that does not shrink from confronting the Starmerites in the electoral arena, and gives the mass of left activists in, around and formerly of Labour, a means to get organised politically. It logically dovetails with the activities of the Resistance Movement, and other fragments of the Labour left such as Breakthrough who are also seeking to organise politically, and who recently formed the Peoples Alliance of the Left (PAL) with Left Unity and TUSC as part of their own attempt to unify the ex-Corbynite left movement with other leftists to fight Starmer. All these initiatives deserve a sympathetic approach and critical though firm support, as they point in a direction that takes the labour movement forward. What they lack, as do all organisations that organise left-reformist socialists in struggle against the neoliberal right, is a coherent revolutionary socialist programme to counterpose to the reformism whose failure to deliver reforms is at the root of the neoliberal takeover of reformist Labour Parties in the first place.

Tony Greenstein at LIEN demonstration, July 2021

Obviously, the task of communists in this situation are twofold – to work alongside those seeking to implement this progressive and necessary perspective, and through patient argumentation and educational work, to win support for a revolutionary programme within this movement, to be the revolutionary ‘fish’ who can swim in the ‘sea’ represented by the movement and safeguard the historic interests of our class by seeking to advance both. Not to run away from this with pseudo-radical right-wing sectarian excuses as the CPGB have done, pulling their people out and misleading others to do so, and absurdly bad-mouthing those who fail to endorse their capitulation to Starmer as ‘liquidators’. As our letter published in WW pointedly makes clear, it is the CPGB who are acting as liquidationists in this situation.

Letter to Weekly Worker

‘Liquidationism’ and the Socialist Labour Network

The allegation against Tony Greenstein of ‘liquidiation’ of Labour Against the Witchhunt into the Labour In Exile Network (the unified group is now known as the Socialist Labour Network), is a fetish. LAW is not a revolutionary party. It is meaningful to talk of liquidating a programme or a revolutionary party, but ‘liquidating’ a single issue campaign is a nonsense. LAW was conceived originally as a united front of different forces to oppose the witchhhunt within the Labour Party under Corbyn.

Jack Conrad is making a fetish of LAW simply because it is a political status symbol. In fact they did not run LAW as a genuine United Front even within the Labour Party. They did not seek to unite all victims of the witchhunt, they expelled some who did not fit in with their third campist politics.

One manifestation of this was the exclusion of Socialist Fight, and also Peter Gregson for supposed ‘anti-Semitism’. Despite admitting that neither of these individuals/trends actually hated Jews, so their exclusion could only be justified with the self-contradictory characterization of these as ‘politically but not personally anti-Semitic’.

A foolish and self-contradictory formulation that denies human agency and in reality is an excuse for political cowardice. It really signified that LAW became, not a united front, but a ‘front’ for the CPGB and its third camp politics in the manner that Stand Up To Racism is a front for the SWP’s politics.

But now it has come apart because of its own contradictions, as the bulk of its hoped for constituency has been radicalized by experience far to the left of these third camp politics, and the Labour Party leadership is destroying the Left in the party in a manner going way beyond Blair, and destroying the party itself as an alternative for workers.

This has led to a change in Tony, and a breakdown in his relations with the CPGB. So I was excluded from LAW by the CPGB and Tony in 2018, but I was invited to join in LAW discussions online a few months ago by Tony. That is a change from 2018 and in Tony, which is to be welcomed.

Derek James’ recent article in Weekly Worker bemoaned this.

“Thus, whilst correctly identifying the politically motivated exaggeration of the nature and extent of anti-Semitism, some comrades enter into a sterile game of competitive oppression, in which racism directed towards black people or Muslims is contrasted unfavourably with the rather different contemporary experience of the Jewish population. Such denialism is ultimately rooted in the ‘beggar my neighbour’ politics of identity: it is not only politically wrong on all counts, but is also totally counterproductive, as it only gives further ammunition to the witch-hunters in the Labour bureaucracy and the media. It also adds further grist to the mill of those who provide the ‘intellectual’ cover for the big lie identifying the left with anti-Semitism, such as the ex-leftist turned conservative commentator, Brendan O’Neill, or the social-imperialists of the misnamed Alliance for Workers’ Liberty.”

The truth is that contradictory to Jack Conrad’s profession of opposition to ‘confessional sects’, he is building a confessional sect around Draperism and Kautskyism.

This rightist element is manifested in the denunciation of David Miller in WW. Reluctant defence of him and the allegation that he is a propagator of conspiracy theories.

Another manifestation of this is the idea of the Labour Party as a united front of a special kind. This is the old Chartist group’s position, the Labour Party as a soviet, in effect. A real liquidationist position. A soviet is a united front of a special kind.

LAW-LIEN is similar in some ways to the Socialist Alliance but on a higher level, not dominated by sects. More open to an intelligent revolutionary group that seeks to persuade and educate, not dominate. The CPGB was involved in the SA and other similar things like Left Unity, only not involved in RESPECT for third campist and Islamophobic reasons, but actually both RESPECT and LU have or had similarities with this.

This is where left activitists are at today, there is nothing unusual about this. You have to work alongside them to win influence for your programme. The CPGB fear them because subliminally they fear that this left-Corbynite milieu, because of their experience of Zionist witchhunts and its linked Islamophobia, will be spontaneously to the left of the CPGB’s third campism.

There is no coherent Marxist justification for the CPGB’s abstention from movements like LAW-LIEN other than this cowardly fear of the left-Corbynite layer. Not entirely different to the hostility that is seen to it from Andrew Coates and the AWL, but given a more superficially leftist phrasemongering.

This is ironically justified by a position of Labour Party fetishism that is similar to things the CPGB denounced in the early 2000s in the SA. The kind of thing that Socialist Appeal and Bob Pitt did in those days , support Blairities against the left. Will the CPGB support Starmer against, say Chris Williamson today if Labour is challenged? That seems like the logic of the argument.

Ian Donovan

Consistent Democrats/Liaison Committee for the Fourth International

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