The Labour leadership is planning to propose that the party’s National Executive Committee, at its meeting on Tuesday (20 July), bans four organisations.
The four are Labour Against the Witch-Hunt, the Labour in Exile Network, Resist / Resistance Movement and Socialist Appeal.
The report in the Mirror cites a “Labour source” saying Starmer wants to “stamp out anti-Semitism and toxic extremism” and condemning the “far left fringes”.
The Labour right want to create an association between left-wing socialist politics and antisemitism. They also seem to be throwing in the issue of support for other candidates against the Labour Party. The issues need untangling.
Chris Williamson, the leading figure of Resist, backed the noxious George Galloway in Batley and Spen. But Williamson has already resigned from the Labour Party, action against people backing anti-Labour candidates needs no new rule, and that's not the issue here.
Some LAW and LIEN people have already faced disciplinary action for antisemitism, for instance Jackie Walker (as we said at the time, not without cause). Walker chose not to challenge that at the decisive committee but instead to walk out. But, again, charges should be against individuals and they should get due process. The bad politics of these groups on antisemitism should be dealt with through argument and education, something which Starmer and co. have little interest in doing.
Socialist Appeal is a would-be Marxist group. They have enthusiastically supported Chris Williamson (while criticising his standing against Labour), and they have at the very least minimised the issue of antisemitism. Those are reasons for polemic against them, not a ban.
In 2015-2016, when dozens of Workers’ Liberty people were expelled from the party, the same thing happened to Socialist Appeal people. The highly ambiguous Labour Party rule 2.I.4(b), the first clause of which on the face of it licenses summary expulsion of anyone who supports or joins any political grouping other than an official Labour one (Momentum? Progress? Friends of the Earth? CND?), was cited to justify exclusion of our comrades and others. (See here for more explanation; the rule change referred to there was defeated at the 2018 Labour conference.) The current proposed ban, too, can and may easily be spread to other groups.
Contrary to the claims of the Labour right, the vast majority of the Workers’ Liberty and Socialist Appeal people expelled in 2015-16 would have been Labour Party members before Jeremy Corbyn became leader, but were not expelled previously. There were very few expulsions under Blair, Brown and Miliband. The 2015-16 drive by the right-wing Labour Party HQ machine which suspended or expelled thousands of people on various pretexts was part of their vain attempt to swing the Labour leadership elections of those years. Sadly, the Corbyn regime, once established, continued a habit of trigger-happy, no-due-process exclusions, though on a lower level, and did nothing to change the arbitrary rules which the HQ machine had used.
In the 1950s and 60s the Labour Party had a long list of "proscribed organisations", mostly connected to the Communist Party. The list was abolished in 1973. Ambiguous rules have remained, which has enabled periodic purges (of Militant in the late 1980s, of Socialist Organiser in 1990-1, and of people having associated with Left Unity, Workers' Liberty, or Socialist Appeal in 2015-6) without re-establishing a list. No list should be reintroduced, and the ambiguous rules should be changed.
The bans and expulsions in the 1980s and 90s were connected to an argument about there being no place for Trotskyists in the Labour Party. For our discussion of those issues more recently, see here.
Now, because of the political degradation and disarray of the left, the right has been able to make a central thrust of its attack the issue of antisemitism. Nonetheless, it is clear that banning the four groups has very little to do with actually tackling antisemitism. It will serve as a lever to ramp up warfare against the wider left within the party, and create an authoritarian culture in which the leadership cannot be challenged. It must be opposed.
The left, and in particular we mean the principled socialist and internationalist left, must get organised for Labour Party conference in September, to call Starmer’s leadership to account.