ONCE UPON A TIME anyone wanting to fish in New York reservoirs had to sign a loyalty oath to the USA. Communists were refused permits.
Unbelievable? Yes. Fake news? Absolutely not.
Because these were the mad days when Senator Joe McCarthy led a witchhunt against communism in America. Thousands lost their jobs. Hundreds were put in prison.
On the face of it the current witch-hunt in the Labour Party is very different – the biggest difference being that while McCarthy was leading a crusade against the US left in general, the witch-hunt in the Labour Party is really aimed at a single person: Jeremy Corbyn. The other casualties, including Chris Williamson, Jackie Walker and Marc Wadsworth, are really only proxies for him.
But there is a major, important similarity. Both witch-hunts, whatever their rhetoric, were really set on achieving hard political goals.
In the case of McCarthyism, after 20 years in the wilderness, the Republicans were desperate for a return to office and demonising the left was a perfect weapon to use against the New Deal Democrats. Significantly, the witch-hunt fizzled out a year after the Republicans returned to power. The aim of the Labour Party witch-hunt is to smash a movement – to stop in its tracks the attempt to advance socialism which began with the unexpected election of Jeremy Corbyn to be party leader.
As with McCarthyism, the Labour Party witch-hunt is being cheered on by desperate and conniving politicians, not just by a large body of Labour MPs, but many others in the party, bureaucrats and careerists, who by hook or by crook want to pull it back from the radical course promised by Jeremy’s leadership victory. If they win, we will have a nightmare scenario.
Labour wins the next election, but because of a majority of rebel MPs it automatically becomes a minority government. Sabotaged on a daily basis by the anti-Corbynites, who will, of course, be supremely well served by the mainstream media, the danger is the new Corbyn government will be the powerless prisoner of its political enemies.
I believe there is a way to avert this disaster. We can do what the McCarthy era left failed to do – we can fight back. In the 1950s America liberal organisations offered little resistance to the right wing crusade. Many even joined in the witch-hunting.
Some Democrats were staunch supporters of the witch-hunts. Some trade unions took up witch-hunting with abandon, while leaders of illustrious bodies such as the American Civil Liberties Union and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People were more than happy to betray their own members as communists. Similarly in the case of the Labour Party, the one organisation which might have been expected to stick up for the witches has often turned out to be on the side of the burners.
Momentum, or at least its leadership, has either maintained a deafening silence on the witch-hunt, or – as in the cases of Ken Livingstone, Chris Williamson, Jackie Walker and Marc Wadsworth – actually given support to the suspensions and expulsions. Of course, groups supporting the witchhunted have sprung up – Jewish Voice for Labour and Labour Against the Witch-Hunt being the leaders in the field. But I believe the current battle goes way beyond an internal Labour Party affair and to win we will need to call on a bigger force.
Jeremy Corbyn became leader with the support of a broad left movement, a significant part of which lies outside the party. Thousands of these people joined or rejoined the party because of JereÓmy. Many formed local Momentum groups which have now divorced themselves from its national leadership and are assessing their best way forward.
These are the people we need to enlist in a concerted effort to stop the witch-hunt, overcome the forces of reaction and resume the battle to create a fairer society. We don’t need a new party – we do need to organize.
is Vice-Chair of South Thanet CLP and chair of Thanet Momentum