Sunday, December 18, 2016

LP interview with leading British Socialist, Roger Silverman

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Below is a transcript of an interview by a UK Labor Party official  of Roger Silverman whose writings we have published and who is one of the main authors of the Preparing for Revolution Document above.  He rejoined the LP in the wake of the rise of Corbyn. Roger, like some us us that founded Facts For Working People was a long time member and full time representative for the Committee for a Workers' International CWI and a founder of the Workers' International Network.  He has just finished a book on Greece. RM

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For anyone who's interested, here's a transcript of my "interview" with the Labour official. His questions are in brackets. Roger Silverman.

Before continuing, I should inform you that I am recording this conversation, as I presume you are too. First I would like to ask: what am I being accused of? What rule of the Labour Party am I alleged to have broken?

(There is no interrogation and no charge; this is a fact-finding interview. I will report to the NEC on the basis of this interview whether or not there is a case to answer.)

You have sent me 25 pages of so-called "evidence", cut-and-pasted from a google trawl, including something I wrote 49 years ago in 1967; but you have given me no indication what this is meant to be evidence of. You say this is "new evidence that has come to light", as if it had unearthed an awful secret, but it was all in the public domain, available for all to see on the internet. Thanks for putting together for me a volume of my future collected works.

(You were a member of Militant and founder of the CWI.)
Yes. I left Militant and the CWI 23 years ago. I don't see the relevance of this question.
(What was your reason for leaving?)
I had political differences with them.

(Do you agree with the aims of Militant and the CWI?)

I'm a socialist. If you want a clear definition of my opinions, I support Clause 4, which for 80 years was the political clause in the constitution of the Labour Party: I believe in the public ownership of the means of production, distribution and exchange and the best obtainable system of public administration and control. This is a good definition.

(Do you agree with the aims and values of the Labour Party?)
Absolutely.

(What is the Workers' International Network? Are you a member of it?)
It’s a network of socialists, as indicated by the title. Yes, I am involved. I would point out that WIN is not a proscribed organisation.

(You write: "We need a single party of the working class; the alternative is a nightmare.")
Of course. Don’t you agree that we need a single workers' party?

(Is there one?)
We're building one.

(Is WIN a political organisation?)

WIN absolutely castigates other left groups for believing that the prime task is to build their own organisation. We say specifically that the task today is to unite the working class. The conditions today are not those that existed at the time of the Communist International or the founding conference of the Fourth International; they are more akin to the work of Marx and Engels: to link together the workers' and anti-capitalist movements around the world. We need to build an international party of the working class.

(Would the Labour Party be part of such a party?)
Absolutely, of course; just as the forerunners of the Labour Party in those days, the London trade unions, were the most powerful force in the First International.

(You have written that members of the SP and SWP should dissolve their organisations and join the Labour Party. Would you encourage members of rival organisations to join the Labour Party?)
Yes, I think all socialists should join the Labour Party. What's wrong with that?
(You've described Zionism as a virulent form of racism.)

Yes, this is a description many people would endorse. Israel denies a quarter of its population equal civil rights and occupies neighbouring territories inhabited by four million people. The purpose of the article you're referring to was actually to explain to someone who had asked me how a principled socialist like my father could have supported Zionism. I put it in the context of the holocaust and its aftermath, with the despicable treatment of survivors of the concentration camps who had nowhere to live. But Zionism has come to represent an oppressive regime, savage wars and the treatment of Arab Israelis as second-class citizens. I'm appalled that this opinion could be considered anti-Semitic. I'm proud of my own Jewish heritage and culture and traditions, and outraged that one political faction should brand those who disagree with it in this way. I don’t have to agree with Zionism and there is no such requirement in the rules of the Labour Party.

(You compared Zionism with the rise of black movements like those of Marcus Garvey, and talked of the mirage of a Jewish nation in a mythical historical homeland.)

That's just a simple historical explanation. At one time sections of the black population in the USA, suffering slavery, lynch laws and Jim Crow had similar hopes that a return to a supposed historical homeland in Africa might be their salvation. I should add that until the pogroms and the holocaust, Zionism was not much more than an obscure sect. The majority of Russian and European Jews were supporters of the Bund. Their response to the Zionists was: no, this is our home and we're staying.

(You said that Sydney Silverman had illusions in a Jewish national homeland?)
Yes. I disagree with him on that

(Do you think that Israel has a right to exist?)
Yes, of course. I'm completely opposed to those who call for its liquidation. It was a mistake to found it, just as it was a mistake to found Pakistan as a homeland for Indian Muslims; but now generations have grown up there. I would have been opposed to the partition of India too. I am in favour of an Israel living in harmony with its Arab neighbours.

(Do you think Zionism is a racist ideology?)
Yes. Israel doesn't have to be a Zionist state. It should guarantee equal rights for all, regardless of race or religion.

(You have called Labour MPs "cowardly", "treacherous", "careerists", "an alien force hostile to workers' interests", and said they have "no links to the labour movement". You talked of "a parasitic cabal of crypto-Tory MPs".)

Well, this was a sharp way of putting it. I admit this was first said in private correspondence which I later posted on the social media. I might have put it in milder language. It was not intended to be offensive; it is a political argument; admittedly, a robust political argument. In a Labour Party meeting I would have put it in other terms. To that extent I would resile from some of that language. But let's put this in context. Throughout its history stretching back decades, the Labour Party was, as its name implies, a workers' party: a party of labour. Its purpose was encapsulated in Clause 4, which I have already quoted to you. The foundation of "New Labour" was the proclamation of a new party, quite distinct from the mainstream orthodox Labour tradition. It replaced the fundamental aims of the Labour Party, which no longer claimed to be a workers' party. This was a terrible defeat, a real blow.

Of course, feelings about this run deep. Tens of thousands of members left the party, as I did, during the Blair period. During the Blair/Brown years Labour lost five million voters - almost one-third of its support. It was a disaster. Now, along with hundreds of thousands of people who have flocked to join the Labour Party, I feel justified and legitimised by the election and then the re-election of Jeremy Corbyn on a mainstream traditional Labour programme. I don’t agree with Jeremy Corbyn about everything, but I welcome the fact that we've cast off the alien traditions of New Labour.

(You have written that a split in the Labour Party is "long overdue", that the two wings "can't be reconciled" and that sooner or later it will come to a split. Do you think that a split is desirable?)
It's my opinion that a split is inevitable. The Labour Party currently straddles two opposing points of view. I'm not calling for a split, but, like many objective commentators, I think it is likely that it will come to that. I'd be sad to see the Labour Party weakened, but it's entirely honourable to accept that where there are two political points of view that are completely incompatible, there is nothing to be lost by each going their own separate ways. I think a split is likely to happen; I don’t know when or how. I hope it will be without acrimony or friction; but for both sides it would be desirable.
(Thank you. Is there anything you'd like to ask me?)

I'd like to end by saying that everyone knows my views, and that my own Labour Party branch fully supports me in my campaign against my suspension. I find it offensive that my rights as a Labour Party member have been put in question. My father was practically a founder member of the Labour Party; he was a Labour MP for 33 years; my mother was an LCC Labour councillor. I remember canvassing for Labour from the age of 14; I was an active member from 1960 onwards. I only left along with tens of thousands of others during the New Labour years. I was an active party member in Hampstead, Brighton Kemp Town, Baron's Court and Hammersmith North Labour Parties, and am now an active member of West Ham Labour Party. I have the unanimous support of my party branch in fighting my suspension and my deprivation of the right to vote in the leadership election, without any charge having been brought against me, let alone heard or upheld. I can only interpret this action as having been motivated by acrimony around the leadership ballot and a futile desire to rig the ballot. If there were any decision to uphold my suspension or even expel me, I would fight to remain in the Labour Party, and I would get the support of everyone who knows me, including those who disagree with me.

Thanks for listening to me.

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