Workers' Liberty: who we are

Submitted by martin on 5 June, 2018 - 2:14 Author: Colin Foster
Ideas for Freedom

Who are we? What are Workers' Liberty and Solidarity? We are a political strand in the flux of the broadly-Corbynite left, a flux which may be reshaping the left for a long period to come.

We are the socialist, class-struggle, consistently-democratic, internationalist strand in the left. That is why we meet such hostility from the NGO-politics, Stalinistic or semi-Stalinist, bureaucratic, nationalistic, and "kitsch anti-imperialist" bloc. That small but vocal bloc represents the deadweight inflicted on the left in the Blair-Brown-Cameron decades, but with feet.

In the first place, we are the people in the trade unions, in the Labour Party, on the streets, and on the campuses, who are organised to fight for out-and-out socialism.

We work to reshape society as a cooperative commonwealth, with the major productive wealth - major factories, office, communication systems, technology - under social ownership and democratic control.

We advocate radical democracy, real and informed decision-making by the majority on the big social, economic, and workplace choices. We fight to reshape production, eliminating profiteering, waste, and bullying by unaccountable managers.

We support partial reforms; but history tells us that if the working class, when mobilised and advancing, must not limit itself only to what looks like it could become "consensus" or "mainstream". It must not accept that the plutocrats and the profiteers will remain in power, and we can go only for what they are willing to live with.

If the working class, when mobilised, limits itself in that way, it will leave society still diseased, and the aimed-for reforms will not be won, or will soon be neutralised.

Secondly, we are the people who strive to revitalise the labour movement, from workplace and ward level upwards, with thoroughgoing democracy and accountability, and the lopping-away of the entrenched privileges currently held by high-up trade-union officials and by MPs and councillors.

For us as for Marx, "the emancipation of the working classes must be conquered by the working classes themselves". It can be won only by fierce, full-on class struggle. And that degree of energy in class struggle is possible only by pushing away the stifling restraints of bureaucracy.

We are for class struggle now against the cuts in local government services often executed by Labour councils on behalf of the Tories, and for pushing Labour councillors to align with that struggle rather than with the needs of administering affairs within Tory budget limits.

Our opponents within the current Labour left prefer socialism-by-the-dropper. That is, socialism in small doses which can be accepted as "mainstream" and which a well-intentioned government can (they think) introduce pretty much by consensus. In place of class struggle, they see uncritical support for the current leaders of the Labour Party and the more-or-less "left" unions as the motor.

Their "socialism" is largely based on left NGO politics - social reform through the work of benevolent "professionals" in office, sustained by large mailing lists. Into that mix, for many of them, neatly fit strands from old Stalinist models.

That is why they denounce us as "sectarians". The denunciation is to cover the fact that they refuse to help help the labour movement push beyond the full-of-gaps schemes of "Corbynomics". They see labour movement progress primarily in terms of themselves and their friends getting higher posts, rather than of radical revitalisation in the workplaces and in the neighbourhoods.

Thirdly, we are internationalists. We are for working-class unity across all borders and national divisions. We believe that socialism can never be built in one country alone, and that an effective and stable socialist transformation can be achieved only by united efforts at a continental level at least.

Consequently we see the building-higher of frontiers between Britain and Europe, through Brexit - a winding-back of the partial, flawed semi-unification of Europe done in their own bureaucratic way by the capitalist classes over the last sixty-plus years - as a step back.

We are for stopping Brexit; against any Brexit deal being approved without Parliament and the electorate both having a vote on it; for the defence of the limited free movement of workers achieved in the EU, and for its extension towards a wider free movement of people across the world.

Our opponents on the left either are positively for Brexit, or argue that Labour must accept the flawed June 2016 referendum as a mandate to let the Tories make the Brexit they want with only minimal harassment from Labour.

They are nationalists, either from conviction or from short-sightedness or from deference to the pro-Brexit sections of the working-class electorate. That deference in fact refuses to deal with the pro-Brexit sections of the working class as intelligent people to be convinced by education and agitation, and instead deals with them patronisingly, by bureaucratic and manipulative approaches.

Because they are nationalist and bureaucratic in their politics, our opponents denounce us on the issue as "undermining the Corbyn leadership" or "allying with the right".

Fourthly, we are for consistent democracy, not only in social and economic affairs, not only within the labour movement, but in international affairs. We advocate equal rights for all nations, and within each nation we advocate secularism and rights for minorities.

We advocate equal rights for the Israeli-Jewish and Palestinian-Arab nations, which means the right of the Palestinian Arabs to have a fully independent state of their own, in contiguous territory, alongside Israel ("two nations, two states").

We oppose the left antisemitism which flows from demonising Israel as uniquely illegitimate and malign, and (despite its small size) uniquely powerful, in world affairs. That demonisation leads to demonising "the Zionists" worldwide, i.e. the big majority of Jews who, from reflexes determined by hideous history and impossible to dispel at will, identify with Israel, to one degree or another, critically or less critically.

We support the rights of the Kurds in Iran, Iraq, Syria, Turkey; the rights of the Tibetans in China; the rights of the Tamils in Sri Lanka. Only a program of consistent democracy and mutual recognition of rights can facilitate working-class unity across borders and across national divisions.

We are anti-imperialists precisely because, and as a derivative of the fact that, we are positively for consistent democracy in relations between peoples, nations, and minorities.

We have learned from Lenin on this question: "There is not, nor can there be, such a thing as a 'negative' [socialist] slogan that serves only to 'sharpen proletarian consciousness against imperialism' without at the same time offering a positive answer to the question of how [socialism] will solve the problem when it assumes power. A 'negative' slogan unconnected with a definite positive solution will not sharpen, but dull, consciousness, for such a slogan is a hollow phrase, meaningless declamation".

And from Trotsky. Anti-that? Very well. But pro-what? "Anti" in the name of what alternative?

"We have to take strong measures against the abstract 'anti-fascist' mode of thinking that finds entry even into our own ranks at times. 'Anti-fascism' is nothing, an empty concept used to cover up Stalinist skulduggery".

Our opponents "compensate" for their weak and bureaucratic approaches "at home" by vicariously super-militant "anti-imperialism", more negatively Israel-hating than positively supporting the Palestinian Arabs or other oppressed peoples.

They seek to take on air of militancy by applauding the political Islamists - Hamas, Hezbollah, the Muslim Brotherhood, etc. By doing so they betray the cause of the democrats and secularists in mostly-Muslim countries and communities worldwide. We have called that approach "kitsch anti-imperialism".

Because of that they denounce us as "Zionist", "pro-imperialist", or even "racist".

Fifthly, we are for the maximum unity in action of the labour movement and the left, coupled with free and open debate and dialogue on disagreements.

We are in favour of socialists being active in the Labour Party, and of the Labour Party opening its doors to Marxists, who were a factor in the very formation of the Labour Party and who, in various ways, more harassed at some times, less harassed at others, have been a strand in Labour's development ever since then.

We seek to repeal the clauses in Labour's rulebook which have been interpreted to carry through the "auto-exclusion" of over 400 activists since 2015, on vague grounds of some sort of association (usually unspecified) with one or another radical left group (often un-named). Those activists have been expelled without notice of precise charges, without a hearing, and without right of appeal.

Our opponents on the left either stand aloof from Labour (the SWP and the SP - both while voicing almost no political criticisms of Corbyn), or adapt to Labour's bureaucratic procedures. They do that because their concept of socialism is bureaucratic, whether because of NGO-politics or of Stalinist influence.

They claim that we are "secretive", though in fact we are much more unsecretive than they are. They operate either through anonymous social-media cliques, or, in the case of Momentum, by office decree and by a rubber-stamp National Coordinating Group which has only a minority elected by the members and publishes no minutes.

They claim that even restoring Labour to the de-facto liberal regime it had between the early 1970s and the late 1980s is unworkable. If they complain about the slew of expulsions and suspensions in the Labour Party at all, they focus only on the cases of people arraigned for antisemitism (who generally do get charges and hearings).

We want to deal with antisemitism primarily through open debate and education. We cannot object to expulsion of people guilty of gross and persistent antisemitism, but expulsions and suspensions in the absence of that open debate and education - in fact, in the absence of any collective process of clarifying what constitutes antisemitism - can resolve little. A number of the expulsions or suspensions have been arbitrary and excessive.

But our opponents campaign on the basis that charges of antisemitism are a-priori to be discounted as only contrivances to do down Corbyn or to whitewash Israel. Thus, by indicating that complaints from Jews are a-priori to be discarded or at least distrusted, their campaign becomes itself an element of the antisemitism which they say does not exist (outside the neo-Nazi fringe and such).

Over history, arguments on the left have often been ill-tempered. Left activists, working against the grain of society, feel tense and under pressure, and attach strong emotions to their political ideas.

Yet the rancour and venom of the recent attacks on us by our opponents on the left, and their recklessness in picking odd sentences out of context or just inventing things in order to try to evade debate with us by instead "criminalising" us (as "racist", "Islamophobic", or such), has gone beyond usual ill-temper. Much of it has the same mood as old Stalinist condemnations of Trotskyists, and some of it explicitly evokes that old Stalinist style.

That reflects ideological insecurity and lack of confidence, a "NGO-type" "banning culture", an anxious desire to stifle critical thought in a growing left which might otherwise grow, politically, beyond the control of the entrenched bureaucrats and officials. The drive to suppress debate must also reflect a desire to patch over differences in the opponents' own camp.

Not all of our opponents believe left antisemitism to be a fiction. Some are anti-Stalinists. Some are sympathetic to "identity politics" (politics in which the value of an idea is judged according to how it expresses an identity of the proponent), some dismiss it. Some favour continued free movement of workers across Europe. Some oppose Brexit. Painting the socialist, class-struggle, consistently-democratic, internationalist pole as demonic, even criminal, is designed to bludgeon potential dissidents into being quiet about such differences.

The rancorous who start out on the back foot, unsure of themselves, and divided, may yet prevail for a period. Trump became president even though many on the US right derided him, and even though his campaign dealt with the slow but definite liberalisation of social thought in the USA by boorish denunciation.

Political Islamists have triumphed in some countries after decades of slow but clear trends of secularisation and the rise of democratic sentiment, and despite their own chronic divisions. The Stalinists managed to dominate labour movements in many countries for decades.

The rancour cannot be fought by us, ourselves, going on the back foot, acting as victims, and making it our main business to say that the wilder denunciations are exaggerated. That will not work, any more than our Trotskyist comrades in the past could have countered the Stalinists effectively by a focus on remonstrating that they, the Trotskyists, were after all not really as bad as "fascists".

It can be fought only by asserting our positive politics, by indicting the central political drift of our opponents, and by insisting, always, on bringing the argument back to the issues of political substance.

Society is never positively reshaped by those who drift along with demagogy. Progress is not won by those who seek to avoid conflict of ideas.

Of course there will always be some like that. People only tepidly interested in or committed to politics will naturally seek the places in politics where they can have a quieter life. If one side aggressively brands another as out-and-out demonic, and the other seems quiet and defensive, those tepid people will go with the aggressive side even if they privately think its denunciations too wild to be true.

It is something like "Pascal's wager". Living in a religious society, where non-believers were aggressively threatened with torment in Hell, Blaise Pascal argued that the doubter should opt for the Church. If God did not exist, then the conformist would have only a finite loss (renouncing a few pleasures); but if God existed, then the conformist could get infinite gains (eternity in Heaven) and avoid infinite losses (eternity in Hell). The argument that Hell maybe wasn't quite so bad, or the probability of it existing maybe was small, could never beat that claim.

The future depends on the numbers who are roused to put more energy and drive into politics, and in the first place to finding out the truth about political matters. Those numbers can be augmented only by positive argument on the political issues, as patient as necessary, as urgent as possible.

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