Last August, thousands of Corbyn supporters were barred from voting in the Labour leadership election, in what was then wryly dubbed "Operation Icepick" – a reference to the weapon of choice by Stalinist agents in the assassination of Leon Trotsky. Alongside banning hundreds of young people who were inspired to try and join Labour by Jeremy Corbyn’s anti-austerity, anti-war programme, this purge also included many cases of long-standing, loyal Labour Party members who had been active in the party for years.
Following Corbyn’s landslide victory in the leadership election, the focus of the mainstream media and right-wing Labour MPs turned on Corbyn himself, who has played the role of a lightning rod for all the ire and vitriol of the Establishment and the Blairites ever since. Nevertheless, key members of Corbyn’s team also came under attack, with Andrew Fisher – one of Jeremy Corbyn’s political advisors – being targeted for suspension last November on the grounds of a single satirical tweet sent prior to the 2015 General Election.
But now the campaign against Corbyn’s supporters and allies has re-emerged, and a fresh wave of baseless expulsions and suspensions seems to be taking place. Encouraged by the suspension of Ken Livingstone on allegations of anti-Semitism, the Labour right wing has re-started a witch hunt against socialists in the party. Amongst those who have fallen victim to this witch hunt is Jackie Walker – the Vice Chair of the Momentum Steering Committee, and a black activist of Jewish heritage and lifelong anti-racist campaigner who played an important role in defeating the racist UKIP in Thanet. She has also been suspended from the Labour Party, accused of making so-called anti-Semitic remarks.
The Labour membership, however, can see right through this smear campaign that has being launched against Corbyn supporters, with only 5% of respondents to a recent YouGov poll stating that they believed the Labour Party to have any special anti-Semitism problem. Importantly, 49% of members agreed with the statement that, “the Labour Party does not have a problem with anti-Semitism and it has been created by the press and Jeremy Corbyn’s opponents to attack him”, whilst a further 35% believed that whilst there may be some instances of anti-Semitism in the party, this issue was nevertheless being cynically used by the media and the Blairites.
The Kafka-esque Trial
Like all witch hunts throughout history, victims are assumed to be guilty until proven innocent. But like Josef K, the protagonist of Kafka's The Trial, the "guilty" have no way of proving their innocence. As the official Momentum statement concerning Jackie’s suspension states:
“We are extremely concerned by the lack of due process in this case, and the failure to apply the principles of natural justice. Journalists were briefed about Jackie’s suspension by party staff before she had been informed. Indeed, she is still yet to receive any formal notification of either her suspension, the basis for it, or a timetable for her hearing. As the suspension was not briefed to the press as ‘without prejudice’, it has been interpreted by some as a presumption of guilt before any process has taken place.”
At the same time, a new round of purges is taking place, with Labour members being informed by letter and email that they “have been removed from the national membership system” on the spurious grounds that they “do not support the aims and values of the Labour Party”. In some instances, it appears, there is not even any mention of a right to appeal.
Leading the charge in all these cases is the shadowy "Compliance Unit": a body that is completely opaque and cloaked in mystery; an enigmatic vigilante that is entirely removed from the control of ordinary members; a bureaucratic wing of the party that is seemingly a law unto itself.
Socialist Appeal supporters under attack
Included in this latest attack on Corbyn supporters are a number of Socialist Appeal activists and supporters, who have been expelled for their “involvement in an organisation that has aims and values that are not compatible with that of the Labour Party”. As the email one comrade received from the Compliance Unit stated:
“We have reason to believe that you do not support the aims and values of the Labour Party or you are a supporter of an organisation opposed to the Labour Party and therefore we are rejecting your application.”
This letter was originally sent to comrade Henry Gray of Islington North CLP last August, who has been an active member of the Labour Party for several years. When Guy responded, noting that he had not applied to join, but was already a party member, he received a further email clarifying that, “As you were an existing member, the email should have stated that you have been excluded from membership, and that you are no longer a member of the Labour Party,” on the grounds that he had “publicly supported a political party other than the Labour Party.”
Clearly the Compliance Unit is not only bureaucratic, but highly inconsistent and incompetent too! Only now, after nine months of persistence, has Guy received confirmation from the Compliance Unit that his right to an appeal is being considered (note: not accepted), and that the reason for his expulsion is his “involvement in an organisation that has aims and values that are not compatible with that of the Labour Party.”
Last August, comrade Scott Shaw in Sheffield was also told that he had been expelled for his involvement in the Marxist Student Federation - a national organisation of student societies, set up by Socialist Appeal supporters to discuss Marxist ideas and campaign for socialist policies in the student movement, which is not affiliated to any political party. Members of the Marxist Student Federation were some of the most energetic campaigners for Corbyn in the Labour leadership election, and many of these young comrades have played an active role in the Labour Party, both at a local level in Labour Clubs and CLPs, and nationally, attending the most recent Young Labour national conference.
Scott was only informed of his expulsion months after the fact when he attempted to apply to attend the Young Labour national conference.Scott appealed, but was unfortunately unable to attend the appeal on the date set by the Compliance Unit. As a result, he was told that that was the end of the matter – that his appeal had been dismissed in his absence and his expulsion would stand. In short, Scott’s hearing was nothing more than a kangaroo court. This again calls into question the lack of due process involved in these expulsions.
Elsewhere, comrade Ben Gliniecki was able to appeal and overturn his expulsion, but only after spending weeks and months of hassle going round in circles in an attempt to receive confirmation that his appeal would be heard.Like Scott, Ben was also expelled last August, again for his involvement with the Marxist Student Federation and Socialist Appeal. However, the panel appointed by the Labour Party to hear Ben’s case found no contradiction between his association with these two organisations and his Labour membership.
Ben’s case demonstrates an important precedent, which the Labour Party should abide by in the case of future appeals by supporters of Socialist Appealagainst their expulsion from the party.
In the last week, we have received notice of many other expulsions of young comrades along similar grounds. For example,Emily Cosentino of West Ham CLP, like many other Socialist Appeal supporters, was active in campaigning for Labour in the recent elections; she is a delegate to her Constituency Labour Party and was a delegate to the recent Young Labour national conference.Tomasz Pierscionek, meanwhile, is a junior doctor and has been a dedicated activist in the inspiring struggle of NHS workers that has put the Tory government on the back foot. Elsewhere, Joe Attard of Camberwell and Peckham CLP is an active member of the University and College Union, and has recently led a successful struggle of Graduate Teaching Assistants in King’s College London.
Owen Walsh of Leeds Central CLP has also been expelled, this time for his involvement with the Leeds Marxist Society. His expulsion follows shortly on the back of Owen and other members of the Leeds Marxist Society passing a motion in their local Labour branch calling for their local Labour MP, Hilary Benn, and others in the Shadow Cabinet who had voted for the bombing of Syria to be removed from the Labour frontbench. Needless to say, Benn was apparently less than happy when the motion was put forward for discussion at the Leeds Central CLP General Meeting.
“Aims and values”
All of these comrades – and possibly others also – have been expelled in the past week for their involvement with Socialist Appeal and/or the Marxist Student Federation. We must tell the truth and call a spade a spade: this is a purge of socialists and pro-Corbyn supporters from the Labour Party.
Comrades have been told that they have been expelled for being members of an organisation that "does not support Labour's aims and values". Letters received by comrades from the Compliance Unit have invoked Chapter 2.1.3.C and Chapter 2.1.4.B of the Labour Party Rule Book, which state that:
“[Individual members of the Labour Party must] not [be] members of political parties or organisations ancillary or subsidiary thereto declared by party conference or by the NEC in pursuance of party conference decisions to be ineligible for affiliation to the party.”
“A member of the party who joins and/ or supports a political organisation other than an official Labour group or other unit of the party, or supports any candidate who stands against an official Labour candidate, or publicly declares their intent to stand against a Labour candidate, shall automatically be ineligible to be or remain a party member, subject to the provisions of Chapter 6.I.2 below of the disciplinary rules.”
But Socialist Appeal is not a proscribed organisation; nor is it a political party. It is – and always has been – a tendency of Marxist activists in the labour movement who campaign for the socialist programme, policies and ideas contained within the pages of Socialist Appeal’s paper and website. Never has involvement with Socialist Appeal been deemed incompatible with Labour Party membership - neither “by party conference or by the NEC”.
The Compliance Unit's decision, in this respect, is completely arbitrary. Only weeks earlier, before this latest wave of expulsions, Ben Gliniecki’s own expulsion on the same grounds (that is, for being involved with the Marxist Student Federation and Socialist Appeal) was overturned on appeal by an appointed Labour Party panel who, we must again stress, found no contradiction between his association with the Marxist Student Federation and Socialist Appeal, on the one hand, and his Labour membership, on the other.
Of course there is a method to this madness - and it involves an attempt to purge the party of the most active and determined Corbyn supporters.
These loyal Labour Party comrades who have been expelled are not "guilty" of any "crime" other than that of being Marxists and actively campaigning for socialist ideas inside the labour movement. In this respect, Socialist Appeal and its supporters have always been completely open and honest about who we are and what we do. We are proud of our political ideas and our paper that argues for these, and we will never be intimidated into hiding our identity as Marxists and socialists.
And, we must ask: what “aims and values” might these be that Socialist Appeal activists are being charged with “not supporting”? We support Corbyn and fight for socialist policies. If this is incompatible with Labour membership, then perhaps Corbyn himself should be expelled? (An outcome that the Blairites would undoubtedly be very happy to see.)
Meanwhile, 66 MPs voted to bomb Syria, against the wishes of the 70-75% of members who indicated they did not agree with these actions. A handful of MPs - such as John Mann - continue to attack and undermine the democratically elected party leader at every turn, acting with complete impunity. None of these have ever been held to account.
The overwhelming majority of Labour Party members and supporters voted for Corbyn on the basis of him being a socialist, a firm opponent of war and austerity, a defender of the NHS and free education, etc. The Labour right wing is against all of these policies and cannot accept them. Instead of fighting for their political ideas openly, a debate they know they would lose, they are using their control of the party apparatus - particularly the infamous "Compliance Unit" - to remove supporters of Corbyn and his policies from the party.
We must ask: why not target members of Progress, the Blairite faction of the Labour Party which too has its own events and publications? Everyone can see that the Labour Party is, unfortunately, riddled with people who “do not support the aims and values” of the party, which was founded to defend the working class: these Blairites, who are Tories in disguise. The unholy trinity of Tony Blair, Gordon Brown and Peter Mandelson, along with hordes of other New Labour creatures in Parliament, led Britain into an illegal war in Iraq that has killed hundreds of thousands. They enthusiastically helped the rich get richer, championed privatisation, maintained anti-trade union legislation, and now advocate cutting public services and making the working class pay for the crisis of capitalism.
And yet these right wingers are still at large inside the party. Tristram Hunt and Chuka Umunna have openly talked in the past about organising a group of "moderates" to sabotage the Corbyn-led cabinet; Simon Danczuk and other right-wing Labour MPs have made open calls for a coup against the democratically elected leader - yet these people are not expelled from the party. According to the shadowy Labour bureaucracy, those who want to attack benefit claimants and bomb Syrians are entitled to be Labour members, but those who campaign to fight against austerity with socialist policies deserve to be unceremoniously booted out without even so much as a thank you for their service to the party.
With these expulsions, we see the contempt that the right-wing Labour bureaucracy has for rank-and-file party members. All of the comrades named above are young comrades and dedicated Corbyn supporters who have passionately fought for socialist policies in the student and labour movements. Over the past few months, many of these comrades have knocked on doors to campaign for Labour in the recent elections. In many of these cases, the responses received have been the same: "I support Corbyn; but I don't trust the Labour Party". Now we can understand why – if this is how the Labour Party bureaucracy treats its most active and dynamic members!
Fight the purge! Fight for socialism!
Doubtless others on the left of the Labour Party will have fallen victim to the Compliance Unit’s guillotine also. Socialist Appeal supporters will not sit back and accept these expulsions lying down. These shenanigans must come to a halt!
We call on all those who have been expelled to appeal their decisions, and we urge all our readers and supporters to help in the fight against this purge. The trade unions and Momentum should organise a serious campaign against this witch hunt, and grassroots Labour members should pass motions in their branches and CLPs demanding an end to expulsions and the abolition of the unaccountable Compliance Unit.
Solidarity to all those comrades who have been expelled by the bureaucratic Compliance Unit!
- Fight the witch hunt! End the purge!
- Abolish the Compliance Unit!
- Defend Corbyn and fight for socialism!
Motion for Labour branches and CLPs:
This branch/CLP notes that there has been a wave of expulsions across the country of Corbyn supporters and socialist activists who are loyal Labour Party members, carried through by the shadowy and unaccountable Compliance Unit. These comrades are being expelled on the spurious grounds that they “do not support the aims and values of the Labour Party.”
We are outraged by the lack of due process involved in these expulsions and the failure to apply the principles of natural justice. In some cases, these comrades are being given no right to appeal, or decisions are being made by committees at hearings in the absence of the accused.
We demand that a stop is brought to these expulsions and that all those who do support the aims and values of the Labour Party are welcomed into the party with open arms. We call for the abolition of the Compliance Unit, which is acting in the manner of a vigilante as a law unto itself. Rather than expelling socialist activists within the party, we must focus our attention on uniting together around a socialist programme in order to defend Corbyn, kick out the Tories, and end austerity.