LRC Report: Libya and a failure to defend democratic rights….
It was something of a trek from Leeds to Preston. Nonetheless, I think its commendable that the Labour Representation Committee has decided to ‘roam’ around the country. Indeed, it now seems likely that there will be a National Committee meeting in the North East. This attitude, that not everything always has to be done in London, is a progressive one, especially for the left which seems to rarely venture outside the capital city.
Today’s meeting was somewhat truncated due to a public anti-cuts meeting immediately following it. Regrettable but understandable and when I left it looked like the anti-cuts meeting was building into a substantial one. I suspect the important issue of where we go after the success of the March for the Alternative would have dominated that meeting. Despite the limited nature of the two-hour time span alot of ground was still covered and credit for that must go to the chair, John McDonnell.
A major part of the meeting was the 45 minute discussion of the situation in the Middle East and North Africa. Unsurprisingly, there was little support for my view that the nature of imperialism had changed though this statement was mistakenly taken by many comrades as me saying imperialism doesn’t exist at all. I warned against the simplistic ‘imperialist/anti-imperialist’ dichotomy and criticised an earlier assertion by comrade Stan Keable that supporting the government on this meant supporting the cuts. I think we need to have a serious discussion about this; it’s quite clear to me that the lefts conception and definition of imperialism is severely limited and does not adequately describe the world as is. I don’t think its as simple or a one-sided relationship as the terms imply and that leads to my hostility to them. For example, i’m not that convinced that in private either the US or UK are that thrilled about Saudi Arabia’s intervention in Bahrain for the simple reason it stirs-up Iran and this is a headache they could well do without at the moment. It’s the same with Israel whose excesses often I think actually exasperate the ‘imperialist’ powers, but who simply can’t control directly these countries in the way calling them ‘imperialist’ suggests they can.
The relationship between imperialism and capitalist globalisation is also complex; from a classical Marxist standpoint surely globalisation, even the capitalist kind, is objectively progressive because it’s what lays the foundations of global socialist governance. I would argue you can clearly see how that’s the case in organs of proto-government like the United Nations and, for a British audience, the European Union. This is why I support the development of these organisations and don’t dismiss them as ‘imperialist’ or ‘neo-liberal’ because while they often are; they are also the germs of the new society in the old in essence, if not yet in form. So, chucking them away is like throwing the proverbial baby out with the bath water.
Things do not exist just in black and white; the world contains many different shades of grey and I think there has been a marked failure to recognise this in the Libya debate. We had all the old canards. Oil is not the reason for intervention in Libya. It’s productive capacity could easily be substituted for by any number of countries. What I suspect has happened is that far-sighted and therefore slightly more sensible sections of the ruling class have realised that the old way of doing things in the Arab world is no longer tenable. The old despotisms are crumbling and now would be a better time to have them removed than when the oil runs out because that would lead to an anarchic social explosion. The process of their decay, which has given rise to an unintended consequence in the rise of Islamist terrorism in the shape of Al Qaeda, is one that has to be gradually managed and in a reactive sense that is exactly the kind of response we have seen from the Western powers – a managerial one which is usually a long way behind the pace of events. Add onto this the fact that capitalism was allowed by the left and the existence Soviet Union to appropriate the language of democracy and humanitarianism for itself unchallenged and you are closer to the true motive, I think. Probably forlornly, for structural and material reasons (unwillingness of the bigger powers to provide enough resources to nourish a nascent bourgeoisie, for example), they hope that liberal democracy can be ‘grafted’, onto these countries through this latest wave of popular revolts as they have failed to achieve this through direct intervention as seen in Afghanistan and Iraq. This, they hope, will bring stability, not to mention opening up these countries economically. Objectively at this time, this forces them to side with democracy in Libya; yes for self-interested reasons, but still they are on the right side.
Several comrades recognised that this debate was not cut-and-dried; Comrade Graham Bash told the meeting how difficult it was for him to side against the intervention given the likely consequences in Benghazi. He nevertheless riled against the hypocrisy of the West and cited Gaza. I can understand this but comrades who say this have to remember that, as with the situation in Bahrain, the situation in Gaza would necessitate ground troops as well. The reactionary agenda of Hamas – to wipe out Israel and massacre Israelis – is not one that is supportable in any way shape or form (this distinguishes them from the Libyan rebels who may not be perfect but broadly speaking are much more supportable). Ground troops would be needed to police the border and ensure Hamas does not fire rockets. Obviously such a mission would have a high cost in life (since troops in the area would be attacked by both Hamas and Israel) and I doubt it would win widespread public favour in the real world – least of all from the left which surely would be duty bound to criticise this ‘colonialist’ action? So, how about it? Are comrades going to formally advocate a UN Peacekeeping force along these lines? I am happy too.
The debate drew to something of a muddled conclusion. In the chair, John McDonnell said something about a statement being issued by the NC which no vote was taken on. A little disturbing; given the general consensus which no doubt would explicitly criticise the intervention which I personally support (as did at least two other comrades, or at least it appeared so), I would have preferred a vote be taken.
The ban and the left.
Report backs of the sub-committees revealed varying degrees of progress, with the exception of the Labour Party group they appear to be struggling to convene meetings. Here it was rightly suggested that new technology be harnessed. It’s simply not practicable for non-London comrades to always physically attend meetings in London.
The next major controversy was a motion moved by myself on free reporting of meetings. I acknowledged legitimate concern over some sensitivity issues but pointed out that Labour’s National Executive Committee is widely and freely reported on; it therefore seems a bit odd nobody can write a report of the LRC’s National Committee meetings. Even odder considering the, admittedly rather skimpy in terms of detail, minutes are now to be made available on the LRC website.
Although the LRC’s Executive Committee had clearly decided to support the motion; comrade Susan Press requested I remit as it had not been passed through Leeds LRC. This is true, however, as I was reassured by Comrade McDonnell I still had the right to submit a motion as an individual member of the NC, so I persisted. The Executive’s stance however makes me question Comrade Press’s claim that she called me – to advise me that a report I wrote here shouldn’t have been published – on behalf of the majority of the Executive. If that was the case, this majority has now clearly changed its mind.
Susan re-articulated the view that NC meetings were “private”. In my view, this view is patently absurd and deeply damaging to our campaign to democratise Labour as a Party. I suppose if Labour’s NEC was to restrict reporting on its meetings the comrades who view our NC meetings as ‘private’ would then defend this as Labour’s NEC must be ‘private’ as well. It seems to me that Labour Party comrades will rightly take no lectures on democracy from an organisation in the shape of the LRC, whose majority behaves in such a thoroughly undemocratic, unacceptable and elitist fashion – the hypocrisy is so glaring its painful.
A code of conduct is being drawn up on all these matters following a complaint of an unspecified nature about the National Committee email list. Legitimate concerns do exist about the volume of traffic but why is the lefts solution always the ban, the prescription and the censure? You could, for example, simply split the list into two for those who want to discuss issues and maybe, shock-horror, have some debate which involves some rough and tumble, and those who simply want announcements. This would both address these concerns and allow those who want to debate freely the freedom to do so. In reaching straight for the ban, the restrictive code of conduct, the left shows its cultural contempt for democracy; its inability to cope with free expression and its basic unworthiness and actually, when it comes down to it, inability to lead progressive struggles. Is it any wonder young people look not to the discredited and divided organised left but the nihilists and police stooges of the Black Bloc?
The motion on free reporting fell narrowly by 10 votes to 9. However, I have decided to defy this decision. When a majority impinges on a minorities democratic rights; its legitimacy as a democratic force is forfeit and I view this majority in that light. The minority in such an instance as this is totally entitled to directly defy the majority and resist restrictions placed upon it by the tyrannical majority.
I have decided to place my case before the wider labour movement and Labour Party by writing this report. The text of my motion; with an amendment I accepted, is below:
- This National Committee affirms the right of its delegates to report on its meetings in any forum they deem fit both internally and externally in the public domain.
- It recognises legitimate concerns exist in some cases around confidentiality, however, it feels this should be addressed through a) dialogue and b) a responsible attitude to reporting these meetings not through a blanket ban on reporting meetings.
- It recognises that comrades reporting meetings have a duty to provide a true and accurate record of those meetings and of the opinions of comrades express therein. Although it recognises this does not impinge upon the right of an author to express their opinion in a report it does confer on the author a responsibility to distinguish clearly between their opinion and the reporting of facts.
- It affirms that ‘custom and practice’ are not an adequate means of determining the rules of the Labour Representation Committee, no matter which body determines what ‘custom and practice’ actually consists of. It reminds all bodies in the Labour Representation Committee that this is the case.
To add at end:
- “NC minutes will be published in full on the LRC website, subject to any omission agreed to by the NC”
Let the majority explain in public their position and justify it and this be settled by open struggle. If they wish to expel or in any way sanction me, then I say the same thing; you must do so in front of the Party and the wider movement. It is my contention that this decision is a violation of my democratic right to freedom of speech and therefore illegitimate and void. I will continue to report openly, and if I am excluded from meetings for doing that will say so in public. In a similar fashion, I will not accept any code of conduct or the restrictions it places on me, even if it is supported by the majority which I feel, and can adequately demonstrate, violates basic democratic principles.
Furthermore, I say this is a tip of the iceberg; that the left is a shambles in every conceivable way and the only forces that are capable of saving it are those committed to openness and democracy, I hope the LRC will not become part of the problem and move towards being the part of the solution.