Labour Party

De-select & Purge us: We Deserve It

This is a guest post by Saul Freeman

As moderate Labour MPs, activists and thinkers grapple with the inevitable fallout of Corbyn’s re-election this week – in equal measure appalled at the reality yet also just glad that it’s done after months of waiting for the axe to fall – it strikes me as a voter that there is one thought that we all ought to be wrestling with above all others:

“We deserve it”.

And we do. Really. We do.

In a mockingly ironic replaying of the “kill us, we deserve it” type of gibbering from Corbyn’s Stop the War Left – whereby huge swathes of liberal, Left, middle class opinion throws up all the post-Colonial guilt it can muster on a daily basis about…oh, just about everything and anything – it turns out that those of us in the democratic, moderate, mainstream had better get in touch with our own “guilt” before we do or say anything very much about the events of the last week.

I’ve argued before that Corbyn’s leadership of Labour ought to have set the bells of the Broad Church ringing in alarm.  But we really should be way past bells. Here’s the thought:

“in remaining part of a Broad Church Left and a Broad Church Labour Party, I am choosing to share a party, a history, a paradigm and an identity with the ghosts of tens of millions of victims of political and state violence and with those who either seek to deny the existence of those ghosts or to explain them away.”

To remain part of the “family” of the Left and – despite our differences with the current incarnation of the cult in its guise of ardent Corbynistas –  to accept the notion that we all share some basic “truths” and values which set us apart from the “others” (also known as Tories) requires us to carry out Herculean feats of intellectual and emotional dissembling.

My argument is simply this: a social democratic party of government cannot be a Broad Church encompassing those who offer various strands of Leftist totalitarian utopianism, and that the forces of democratic, progressive incremental politics have a duty to isolate, expose, challenge and disempower the anti-democratic and dangerous Left, not provide them with a respectable home. Largely, the Left have failed to consistently do very much of that over the last 90 years or so. Quite the opposite in fact. And now we are reaping our own whirlwind.

We could play a game where we pick a poster boy (and they do tend to be boys, comrades) from the international Left – you know, the ones we all admired when we were young and the ones that young Jeremy Corbyn still admires – and guess the actual death count. Because, as a leading scholar of the contemporary Left neatly summed it up the other week in conversation – whenever actual revolutionary Leftists get a sniff of real power, people tend to die nasty deaths at an alarming rate.

Tom Watson rightly noted the infiltration of Labour by a small band of Trotskyists using Momentum as the Trojan horse (not that anyone is actually bothering to do anything much covertly anymore). Trotsky is the card de jour in the Corbynista revolutionary socialist Top Trumps pack. And before he met his end as a persecuted victim at the hands of Stalin’s hired assassin, Leon had racked up his own impressive body count during his years of Bolshevik power. Famously responsible for the torture and deaths of the Kronsdadt rebels in 1921 in his role as Commissar for War, Trotsky was a man who also had “firm” views on workplace discipline, arguing for:

a regime under which each worker feels himself to be a soldier of labour who cannot freely dispose of himself; if he is ordered transferred, he must execute that order; if he does not do so, he will be a deserter who should be punished. Who will execute this? The trade union. It will create a new regime. That is the militarisation of the working class.”

Look around your Left and remind yourself that you share it with people who look to Leon for wisdom in both theory and practice. Repeat the exercise with any other cards from our Top Trumps pack – some names we all know and some we may not (oh, I’ve got Mao, Guevara and Samora Machel of FRELIMO!) We’ll feel our hearts quicken at the stirring Socialist rhetoric and then we can count the bodies

When intellectually porous utopianism meets the hard Left’s totalitarian instinct and is empowered by a slug of populism, it’s always just a matter of time before the bodies start dropping.

And you might want to hold that thought as John McDonnell sets out his economic vision for Conference 2016 (“The winds of globalisation are blowing in a different direction. They are blowing against the belief in the free market, and in favour of intervention.”)

Intervention is not really the word though, is it? The key word is control. Command and control. That’s how we have to do it in the absence of a market, otherwise there’s no point in the intervention. That’s why we are totalitarian by instinct. Imagine you are living in McDonnell’s post-free market socialist paradise and that you run a factory making widgets. When word comes from McDonnell’s office that you need to make 100,000 widgets at a unit price of £1 this month, what do you think the reaction of your regional economic commissar might be to your protest that you simply can’t or even won’t? Might he suggest, comrade, that it could be time for a chat with the lads from the local Momentum performance monitoring Unit 347, perhaps? And the lads don’t take kindly to productivity failure, seeing it as a symptom of ideological impurity. They’re gonna make you an offer you can’t refuse.

Take your pick of the Corbynista / Momentum Left’s ugly, stupid and abusive behaviour over the last 18 months and then imagine what life might look like if they actually held real power over real people’s lives. Only we don’t have to imagine, we just need to engage with history – our Left’s history – to see where this ends. But in the world of the middle class Leftists, we’re still all too busy buying each other the autobiographies of Black Panthers, eulogising Chavez, re-posting Facebook endorsements of the latest Black Lives Matter communique (despite never having read it) and buying T-shirts from the Guardian shop emblazoned with Nye Bevan’s slogan that Tories are “lower than vermin”. We have no time for history, comrades.

When – as a teenager – I joined the utopian and totalitarian Communist Party, did anyone take me aside and quietly explain the enormity of that mistake? Did they ask me to do the maths and tot up the body count? No – because it was socially acceptable behaviour for those of us brought up in working class families with a radical bent. Instead of reproach, relatives fondly remembered uncles who had been Party members back in the 1930s. Just as now it’s socially acceptable (required in certain middle class circles in certain fashionable London postcodes) to endorse a Labour leader who has spent 40 years supporting dictators, repressive regimes and terrorist groups the world over.

This week Corbyn will apparently share a Momentum stage with Richard Seymour, the Trotskyist “thinker” who famously insulted Simon Weston and also called for an Israeli journalist to have his throat slit late last year. Why exactly are we surprised or outraged? Reflect on the fact that Seymour was regularly on the pages of our beloved Guardian – the bastion of all things liberal and correct – which we enjoy reading whilst we sip our soya lattes. There were over 200 Guardian articles from Seymour – cash that helped fund Mr Seymour and his “struggle”. How many of us howled in outrage on seeing Seymour’s by-line and decided to read another paper? Rather more likely, we read his pieces and nodded in agreement as Seymour exposed more of the degenerate failings of liberal Western democracy, not bothering to wonder who he was or what his politics were really about.

Some Eustonites have been asking these questions for years, but most middle class Leftists never have.

But in 2014, some of us finally – inexcusably late – had to start pulling at the threads of the Left, largely because some others were starting to wind those threads around our throats with a little more vigour than we had grown used to. Gaza, dead children, apartheid Israel and the evil of Zionism. For many Jews on the Left like me, 2014 was perhaps the beginning of the end.

Because the Left does of course have a long and dark history of anti-Semitism and we knew it, though we tried to bury that thought away. The roots, history and evolution of it are so mind crushingly obvious and banal that even Shami could probably understand it if she could be bothered. The Classic Marxist approach to Jews was just good old-fashioned Christian Jew hatred dressed up as a concept of Jews as an economic category. By the way folks, it was complete rubbish, empirically – in case you were wondering. Jews were peasants in the shtetl, they were not wielding vast economic and political influence, unless cucumbers were your chosen currency.

Soviet foreign policy after around 1955 needed a Cold War sphere of influence to counter American hegemony and thus required alliances with the emergent Arab nationalism of the Ba’athists, Nasser et al based around the de-legitimisation of Israel. Soviet weapons fuelled 2 major eliminationist wars whereby Syria, Egypt and Jordan (with assistance from Baathist Iraq amongst others) attempted to wipe Israel off the world map in the name of the Islamic motherland and anti-colonialism. Pick a random Ba’athist statement issued during the Six Day War and you may struggle to place it as 1967 Syria or European Left circa 2016. And domestic Soviet policy could always use a dose of good old Marxist/Christian anti-Semitism to navigate internal tensions.

As for the decades long petty oppression, suppression (and on occasion murder) of Jews in the Soviet bloc? Some of us who shuffle along to synagogue once a month are occasionally reminded when we open a prayer book from the 1980s and find a prayer or 2 for Soviet Jews. But then, if you’re not a Jew in a shul that’s not really very likely to pop up and promote a little critical thinking, is it?

Then we cut to the Iranian revolution and before you know it, it’s 2005 and Corbyn’s Stop the War is at the 2nd Cairo conference against the Zionist entity with the Muslim Brotherhood. Hey, the Left needed a new alliance and those smart Soviets had done the enabling works (albeit with the complication of Afghanistan).

Around this time, a young student Owen Jones is offering theories about the genetics of European Jews and how this proves that Zionism is a Western / American colonialist sham rather than a legitimate desire for self-determination for Jews. It doesn’t appear to have led to his exclusion from the Left and it didn’t harm his career prospects. And whilst Owen might possibly have moved on from that intellectual and moral calumny (but equally, possibly not) plenty of other Leftist folk are happy to repeat the same “theories.” So – that’s people on the Left wondering aloud about the contents of the genetic code of Jewish people, just 50 years after the Shoah. Throw a little 2016 Momentum David Duke / Louis Farrakhan Jewish-cash-at-the-root-of-African-slavery Jackie Walker stuff into the mix and we have the perfect post-structuralist/post-Soviet anti-Semitism storm. Are we all feeling comfortable?

Now, apparently Momentum activists are tired of hearing about anti-Semitism. Well. Perhaps they really are smarter than us. Perhaps those Corbynistas realise that if we start examining their leader’s and their Left’s deep problem with anti-Semitism – if we pull on that thread – the whole thing unravels spectacularly.

The Left has defined itself as the community of the good and in doing so excludes complexity, contingency and responsibility. We generally form a deeply felt attachment to the idea of the Left around the age of about 14 and from that point on, very little in the way of evidence based politics or informed thinking appears to take place. It doesn’t need to – we know we are on the side of righteousness. As an example, when last year I declined to attend a March for Refugees in my home city on the basis that 4 out of the 6 local groups organising the march had links to Trotskyist or anti-Semitic material and groups, or both (including 1 march organising group that linked on its home page to the infamous site) I stepped outside that community.  “It’s a march for refugees – how can you not want to take part? What has happened to your politics and priorities?”

The movie The Big Short shows how those responsible for the 2007/8 banking crisis created that disaster largely by failing to read the contract, the detail. A house of cards built on sub-prime because almost nobody wanted to examine the reality. But on the Left, it turns out that we don’t read the bloody contracts either. We hate and blame the bankers for it. They pursued their own lust for wealth at our financial and social expense. Yet we on the Left have pursued our claim to the moral high ground at the expense of the tens of millions of ghosts. Those of us who have started to read the small print (including the links to are then accused of abandoning principles of solidarity and social justice or promoting smears and untruths.

Are all the half million or so Corbyn cult members all totalitarian Jew haters who would gladly put a bullet in the head of the enemies of the people that Seumas puts on his paranoid lists? No, of course not. Some of them, a very small group, undoubtedly are going to tick at least a couple of those boxes. Of the rest, most will never be but they could be if and when a party or a state needed them to be. That’s how populist, utopian and totalitarian ideology works. Don’t take my word for it – check your history and tot up the body count. And in the meantime the Corbynistas are all comfortably within the virtuous circle of the Left, pointing accusing fingers at the Tory scum and decrying the smears of the “right”.

So how does any of this help us right now, in the week after the Corbyn/McDonnell/Milne axis strengthened its death grip on the Labour Party? By making it very clear what the task is.

The tiny Eustonite Left tried to lead the way years ago, to almost universal derision and contempt from the broader Left.

Do the MPs, the activists, the thinkers and the ordinary members and voters like me stay in Labour or leave for a fresh start? Well, from where I sit, that’s not the real issue at hand. There are reasonable tactical arguments on both ends of that debate, though I’m clear that I will not be voting Labour again under the current leadership. My membership is up for re-evaluation. What matters is whether we have the courage and the clarity to publicly draw some very clear lines and to put the obfuscation and denial of the last 90 years to an end and to acknowledge our ghosts. But, you can’t do that from Corbyn’s Shadow Cabinet. You can’t do that by continuing to provide a respectable home for ideas, groups and values that have no place in mainstream modern, liberal and democratic politics. That’s how we ended up here, remember?  That’s why we deserve what we’ve been handed by the Corbyn phenomena.

The hard Left’s capture of the Labour Party isn’t down to clumsy and ill thought out rule changes courtesy of Ed Miliband. It’s the end-game of our collective failure to confront the ideological failure and historical guilt of the Left.

Because whatever John McDonnell may say about not having to whisper it in Labour 2016, no one should be raising the red flag of Socialism anymore unless they want to summon up the ghosts of the Left’s victims and do the body count.