The left at Labour conference

Submitted by AWL on 2 October, 2019 - 11:44 Author: Kelly Rogers, Matt Cooper, and David Ball
conference

Workers’ Liberty comrades and those around us had a huge impact on Labour Party conference this year (21-25 September, Brighton).

When the Leader’s Office was fishing for compromises on Brexit in the run up to conference, some prominent Remainers were arguing that we’d already won everything we wanted, and that it was reasonable for Labour not to argue explicitly for Remain.

It was at the Labour for a Socialist Europe steering committee that was all put to bed. Following that, the AEIP/L4SE campaign was clear all the way through conference: we were going to refuse to accept being swallowed into a single composite (as in 2018), force the debate out in the open, and argue our side.

The overwhelming majority of CLPs [Constituency Labour Parties] stayed in our composite (over 50 came with us, eight went with the CLPD Brexit-neutral composite). We came a lot closer to winning that I think any of us thought was possible, and we really gave the leadership a run for their money. We came out of it with a lot of people very fired up.

And all of the compromises being offered by the leadership in advance of conference have been included in the final formulation: the main one being the special conference, post-General Election, to decide Labour’s Brexit position.

The victory over free movement was again was down to the hard work of ourselves and some very good comrades that we work with. I don’t think we would have won it if it hadn’t been for the Brexit debate taking place earlier in conference, us winning lots of people over to us, and the leadership running out of road for manoeuvring and backroom shenanigans.

They certainly tried though: as reported in the paper they initially separated our motion from the LARAF/Momentum motion on abolishing detention centres, in the hope that neither policy area would get enough priority votes on its own.

But a campaign on conference floor with lots of speeches about hearing the motions together and a lot of leafleting outside in favour of our motion got our nose over the line.

Then the Leader’s Office sent in their people to try to water down our composite (despite all eight delegates in the compositing having almost identical text). The delegates did a phenomenal job, defending almost all of the text in the face of a lot of pressure and guilt-tripping from people like Diane Abbott.

And then the party machine scheduled the motion to be heard on Wednesday, when lots of delegates would already have gone home. We feared that conference would be closed early following the Supreme Court ruling was announced. But I think the Leader’s Office knew that doing that would be too damaging for them, with everything else that had gone on at conference.

And we won — almost unanimously, with only a handful of CWU delegates voting against, and even their delegation was split.

In the Green New Deal compositing, too, it is clear that our comrades were very important. If it weren’t for the Clarion motion that we supported, and our people in the compositing meeting, then Labour for a GND would have rolled over under pressure from the leadership.

But the delegates stuck it out, and most of the radical policy submitted got into a composite that was passed.

Slipshod on Israel-Palestine

Labour Party conference passed a motion on Israel-Palestine, but shoehorned into the same session as Brexit, with no debate, and even less understanding of the issues.

The motion supports a majority-Palestinian state within the territory of Israel-Palestine, but in a fashion suffused with political dishonesty, written to hide rather than explain the issues.

The motion is premised on an “internationalist Labour Party” having particular responsibility “because of the role Britain played as a colonial power during the 1948 Nabka when Palestinians were forcibly displaced from their homes.”

That is nonsense. From the end of World War 2, Britain refused entry for Jewish refugees into Palestine, already heavily restricted during the war and the Holocaust. An increasingly violent Jewish insurgency in Palestine fought the British.

In 1947 Britain handed the problem to the UN, which proposed the partition of Palestine into Arab and Jewish controlled states. Britain, unwilling to implement this plan, started withdrawing from Palestine in November 1947. Arab guerrillas, with their command mainly based in Syria, started war against the Jewish population. The Jews fought back. The British forces tried to avoid conflict, and from time to time “managed” the removal of Arab or Jewish communities fleeing from areas conquered by the “other” side.

Britain’s “mandate” expired in May 1948. The Jewish Agency declared the state of Israel. Four Arab states, with smaller contingents from other states and military support from Britain, invaded to try to crush the nascent Israel and impose an Arab state. Israel won the war. Jews were expelled more completely from the Arab-held areas, but more Arabs were expelled from Jewish-held areas.

The Arab-held areas did not become a Palestinian state, but were taken over by Jordan (the West Bank) and Egypt (Gaza). It was indeed a disaster (“Nakba”) for the Palestinians, but the motion’s grasp of history is poor.

Its politics are worse. It opposes any settlement that is “not based on international law and UN resolutions recognising [the Palestinians’] rights to self-determination and to return to their homes.” In her speech (though not in the text of the motion) the mover ruled out a two-states solution.

Reliance on the UN is not the habit of a healthy socialist movement. The UN and international law are the result of agreements between the political leaderships of the states of the world and as such represent the agglomerated interests of the ruling classes of those states.

Within this, the most powerful states have the loudest voice. This is obvious with the UN. Its General Assembly comprises representatives of most states, but its motions are not binding on its members.

The real power is with the Security Council, a faded sepia photograph of the world powers in 1945. Its permanent members remain the victors of the Second World War: the USA, Russia, China, Britain, France. Those five alone can veto any proposal.

Some UN bodies such as UNESCO or UNICEF might represent some form of liberal internationalism, at but the top level it is nothing more than a forum for reconciling the interests of powerful national and regional factions within the ruling classes of the world.

In any case UN policy is not what the motion claims. The UN General Assembly resolution most commonly cited in support of the Palestine cause is 194, passed as the 1948 Arab-Israeli War was ending. It contains the provision that “refugees wishing to return to their homes and live at peace with their neighbours should be permitted to do so.”

This statement, one that has been regularly reaffirmed by the General Assembly, is not a plan for merging two populations onto a single territory, far less an unrealistic attempt to return the seven million descendants of those original refugees to where their forebears once lived and thus, on the pretext of “refugee rights”, to suppress Israeli-Jewish self-determination. Legalistically, it probably only applies to the original 1948 refugees, not to their descendants. The “living in peace” implies acceptance of the Israeli state.

It operates in the context of the UN’s support for a Palestine divided into two states for the two peoples. Ever since the UN partition plan of 1947 as agreed in Resolution 181, some variant of a two-states solution has been a constant feature of UN policy. The UN supports Palestinian self-determination — in the context of a two-states solution.

The treaties and customs recognised by the UN’s International Court of Justice have clear implications for the right of colonies to independence, but in other ways the UN charter does not promote the right of nations to self-determination as socialists might understand it (the right of subject peoples within existing states – Scots, Catalans, Kurds – to have their own state).

Rather it seeks to protect (in the words of the Charter) the “territorial integrity or political independence of any state”.
It is often stated that Israel’s occupation of the West Bank and Gaza is illegal under international law, but that is because these territories were previously claimed by Jordan and Egypt, not on any principle of Palestinian self-determination.

The tragedy of this motion is that it represents genuine concern in the Labour Party about the plight of the Palestinians. But the framers of the motion have concocted superficially reasonable appeals which disguise a programme that is both unachievable and reactionary.

This motion should have been (at very least) remitted for a period of serious debate in the party.

Labour should campaigning urgently and vigorously for “two states” and in support of democratic movements in Israel-Palestine like Standing Together. This motion will set back that solidarity campaigning, rather than advance it.

Uyghur rights voted through

Labour conference voted overwhelmingly in favour of an emergency motion in support of the Uyghur people’s human rights.

The motion, submitted by Finchley and Golders Green CLP, is unequivocal — it “condemns the litany of human rights abuses perpetrated by China on the Uyghur people” including mass internment in concentration camps; extreme, intrusive surveillance; tyrannical restrictions on basic freedoms; systematically separating Uyghur children from their families; and a drive to eliminate distinctive Uyghur culture.

Labour’s policy now clearly in stands “proudly and unequivocally with the Uyghur people against oppression and persecution by the Chinese State” and includes commitment to “promote this cause throughout our movement and… …support and mobilise for protests and demonstrations in support of the human rights of the Uyghurs and other minority peoples in Xinjiang.”

It is extremely positive that the motion was carried overwhelmingly and it can give new hope to the Uyghur community in the UK who have been campaigning for many years against Chinese oppression of their relatives and compatriots in Xinjiang.

However, there’s reason to think that it may be an uphill struggle to win Labour to act on this policy. Besides Jo Gowers, the delegate who moved the motion, no other delegate spoke on it, for or against (it was a busy conference session but...).

Perhaps more importantly, Emily Thornberry, at the start of the International session (which included the emergency motion), made no mention of China or Xi Jinping at all in a speech in which she denounced just about every other significant, powerful “strongman leader” around the world.

Thornberry managed condemnation of both Putin and Trump, as well as Maduro, Bolsonaro, Duterte, Netanyahu, Khamenei, Mohammed Bin Salman, Assad, Erdoğan, Orban, Sisi – “the list goes on and on” she noted. She went on to mention human rights atrocities in Kashmir, Cameroon, Brunei and Myanmar. But it seems that using her platform at Labour conference to denounce Xi Jinping is a step too far. Overlooking the oppression being meted out by the Chinese state is really a gaping hole in this description of brutal tyranny in the 21st century.

We cannot allow the influence of Stalinism to silence the Labour Party on China.

There is an urgent task for anti-Stalinist socialists to win the whole labour movement – from the leadership to the grassroots – to energetic support for the rights of the Uyghurs, the Hong Kong democracy movement, the Chinese working class, and all those oppressed by the Chinese state.

See also "Labour must respect free movement vote"

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