Tom Watson’s Trots and Peter Taaffe’s delusions of grandeur

The red-baiting, McCarthyite “Trotskyist infiltration” (non-) story has probably been one of the low points of this leadership election so far, and considering the apparently limitless willingness of our party’s bureaucracy to subvert this contest and exclude as many people as possible, that is saying something. It’s little more than a surprisingly amateurishly executed pound-shop Zinoviev Letter and has also had the unfortunate effect of bringing the lamentable and unendurably smug Michael Crick back into the limelight for another five minutes of fame and a few book sales.

The idea that the Trotskyist left, which I suspect numbers less than a thousand active members in the UK and whose two “largest” groups have publicly refused to join the Labour Party (and the evidence I see before my eyes in Birmingham is that they are keeping that promise, much as they find it enormously frustrating) is patently ludicrous. The party membership has tripled in the last twelve months. It is a conspiracy theory propagated by people who know it to be a lie, and it is all the more loathsome for its brazen dishonesty.

The usually sure-footed Tom Watson, source of this nonsense, has not covered himself in glory at all these last couple of weeks. People will not forget this. He has disgraced himself and his office.

We knew the right would throw everything they could at Corbyn. It was always going to be a dirty election and it has delivered. The stakes are high and we are dealing with people with no scruples.

But rather more surprisingly, former Militant Tendency (now uninspiringly called the Socialist Party, a major drop down in the left group naming stakes) godfather, Peter Taaffe, still going strong at 73, has got himself a few cheap headlines by telling anyone who will listen that he expects to be re-admitted to the party if Corbyn is re-elected.

Normally I would just dismiss this as a bit of mischievous, albeit slightly embarrassing publicity seeking by a man whose best days are long behind him. But there is a serious point here and it does him and his organisation no credit.

He is no fool. He knew the effect that these words would have, the effect it would have on Corbyn and the awkward position it would put the leadership team. It would be yet another round of bad headlines to fend off, would cement in the minds of a few waverers that Corbyn’s leadership would inevitably split the party, and give credence to Watson’s nauseating tosh.

So why do it? Why make the job of a man and movement you claim to support that much harder? Are a couple of days of headlines, a handful of extra recruits, a few more papers sold, website clicks and maybe the chance to relive the glory years, when the Militant actually meant something and was able to impact on British politics, really worth it?

If Corbyn loses, and let’s not pretend this is a done deal, and this story can be in anyway seen as a turning point, would it have been worth it then? And would it help to prove that the hundreds of thousands of people who joined the Labour Party in the hope of a better world were wrong all along and that we could never try and make the Labour Party a mass movement for democratic socialism, and that “comrade” Taaffe was right all along? Was that his goal?

And if not, what on earth was he thinking?




8 thoughts on “Tom Watson’s Trots and Peter Taaffe’s delusions of grandeur

  1. Don’t think Spew are to blame. I understand they have applied to affiliate to LP. Would you support that, or are the old far left too embarrassing? As you say this is classic red baiting from Watson. The answer to it is that we welcome everyone to join LP and defend Corbyn.


  2. Richard

    It’s a combination of having an eye for a main chance and sabotage. The resourceful comrade Taaffe will always seize an opportunity to big up and publicise his organisation. He has also no intention of SPEW joining the Labour Party, but he knows that the SP has no chance of recruiting anyone whilst Corbyn’s followers are pushing Labour to the left. So, he is happy to help Watson and the right in their attempt to derail Corbyn’s re-election.


  3. Birmingham Socialist Party

    It was very disappointing to read on a Momentum page the article headed “Tom Watson’s Trots and Peter Taaffe’s delusions of grandeur”. This hardly appears to be the promotion of ‘nicer politics’.

    Putting disappointment to one side, what does the article argue?

    Firstly it’s author –named ‘JC’- argues disingenuously that (Trotskyists) ‘have publicly refused to join the Labour Party’. But that’s not what Peter Taaffe said is it? In fact the article goes on to accuse Taaffe of endangering Jeremy Corbyn by saying he expected to be back in the Labour Party. ‘JC’ cannot have it both ways!

    In fact the Socialist Party has given clear support to Jeremy Corbyn. It moved policy in the CWU that secured that unions support for Jeremy. In UNITE they won support for democratic measures including reselection of MP’s.

    In the event of Jeremy’s re-election we have called for consolidation of that victory by creating a fully democratic and socialist Labour Party and made clear we would like to affiliate to such a party.
    Currently socialists who have publicly and electorally challenged the Blairites over 20 years are being told they must abandon their colleagues and associations –and presumably ideas- to join only as individuals – this while the old machine still rules undemocratically leaving no clue as to whether the machine will allow them to join anyway.

    More’s the point Militant supporters were expelled from (New) Labour. They did not run away from it.

    Once the Marxist left ceased to be merely workhorses for MP’s and councillors and over time became officers, councillors and MP’s (who, like Dave Nellist -and embarrassingly for right wing MP’s- found they could live quite happily on just a workers wage!) the right wing sought to drive them out of the Labour Party.

    For the crime of fighting Maggie Thatcher in Liverpool many councillors were expelled (despite winning the best electoral results in Liverpool’s history). It was an expellable offence to be an organiser of the Anti-Poll Tax Federation campaign that defeated Mrs Thatcher and sank her.

    The right wing went on to abandon the socialist Clause 4 part 4 of Labour’s constitution and transformed into a Tory-lite party that has seen Labour lose 5 million votes and create many policies such as privatisation, PFI, academies etc on which the Tories have gleefully built upon. It was no accident that when asked what her greatest achievement was Mrs Thatcher said “New Labour”.

    The second charge is that Peter Taaffe by appearing on TV damaged Jeremy’s re-election bid by being part of a red scare story. But Jeremy himself said Watsons comments were nonsense. He said he’d look forward to a chat with Peter Taaffe. Why then, on Momentums pages, is this derogatory piece repeating the use of “Trot” as an insult? To do so is to play the media’s game. We would point out that Jeremy did move in Parliament for Trotsky to be rehabilitated.

    ‘JC’ says; “He (Taaffe) knew the effect that these words would have,…the awkward position it would put the leadership team. It would be yet another round of bad headlines to fend off”. JC suggests Taaffe did it ‘to sell a few more papers’ and then clearly implies that Taaffe would be happier if Jeremy lost.
    Can we be clear? We –alongside colleagues including Bob Crow and the Rail Union RMT and others – believed that with New Labour being a Tory second XI, working people needed a new party to stand up for them, and we worked to establish the roots for one. Now with the possibility of the transformation of Labour, true working class representation could be achieved without having to start from square one and WE WELCOME and seek to aid that possibility.

    Of course the rabid media sought to use the Socialist Party to attack Jeremy Corbyn. But they use Rail journeys to attack him too. Should Jeremy be condemned for travelling by train?

    What were the Socialist Party who were bureaucratically expelled from the Labour Party for fighting the Tories supposed to say? ‘No Comment’? We won’t appear or speak?
    Would that have called the media hyena’s off? No of course it wouldn’t. It would have intensified the media attacks on socialists and on Jeremy. It would have been tantamount to saying ‘We know we’re villains, so we’re lying low’. Socialists must answer the attacks made by Britain’s elite, not hide when attacked.

    But what is ‘JC’ really arguing? That Marxists, ‘Trots’ etc should not be allowed in the Labour Party? That Kinnock’s and Blair’s expulsions were right? That if anti-austerity Greens wanted to join Labour that that would be embarrassing or ‘awkward’? All this to placate –and without any success- a right wing determined to destroy Jeremy’s leadership?

    Is ‘JC’ arguing that smaller political organisations should not be allowed to affiliate to and support Labour under Jeremy’s leadership? Other organisations already do.

    Finally there is one other issue we’d like to answer. Intentionally or not, ‘JC’s article could be read by some as saying Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership could be the cause of a split in Labour. The left must strongly and clearly explain that any split in Labour will not be the work of Jeremy Corbyn -or the Socialist Party- but of the right wing who want to both defend the free market economy and to preserve their careers.

    To do this they have been happy to damage Labour’s prospects of beating the Tories. Working people deserve better, a party that offers complete change and a new society, and we must be resolute, not afraid in pursuing that.
    To ‘JC’ we ask please concentrate determined fire on the Blairite right wing, not on socialists.

    Birmingham Socialist Party


    1. Pete b

      I think that the tone here is a little abrupt. JC s article is a discussion article not the position of Momentum. I wouldn’t want momentum to take a position on what it thinks of spew, just the left fighting out old battles rather than looking ahead. I am interested as I was speaking to a spew comrade the other night and he wasn’t aware that spews line is to try to affiliate to the LP. There is a fantastic historic parallel here. The CP in the twenties was urged to attempt to affiliate to the Labour Party by Lenin. Leninis authority was so great that the British CP did apply to affiliate, but it did so in such a hostile way that it was refused. In this way the CP argued it was not they that were causing divisions.
      Of course the Spew of today is much smaller than the CP was at that time. Leninis arguement was that the revolutionaries needed to win unity with the organised working class, overwhelmingly in the LP. To best do that they needed to fight with the left in the Labour Party.
      I think JC repeats some of the hostility of the LP left to outsiders and perhaps the Spew repeats the reluctance to fight for the unity of the left around Corbyn.


  4. Of course, if the Socialist Party acknowledge that everything they’ve said about the Labour Party since they walked out / provoked their own expulsions by standing candidates against Labour 20 years ago, has been wrong, they should be allowed to return. We can teach them some correct analysis of how to operate in the Labour movement, including nor pandering to racism, as they did over Brexit.

    Meanwhile a comrade at the Scottish debate reports:

    Extracts from Socialist Party (Scotland) leaflet:

    “The immediate task is … to organise to ensure that this time victory is consolidated by remaking Labour as a working-class, socialist party.” [Something absolutely ruled out by the Socialist Party for the last quarter of a century.]

    “[To recover,] Labour would also have to change its opposition to Scottish independence as well. … A desire for independence is primarily a working-class demand for a way out of the unending attacks they face.”

    “There should be a return to the founding structures of the Labour Party, which involved separate socialist parties coalescing with the trade unions and social movements like women’s suffrage campaigners and the co-operative movement.”

    [The purpose of the latter proposal is to allow the Socialist Party to affiliate. But it would involve the expulsion of all individual members of the Labour Party, given that the “founding structures” of the Labour Party involved affiliates only, not individual members.

    The bigger question raised by the leaflet is the article it carried headed “Trotskyism is Front Page News”. If Trotskyism is “front page news”, why was the article on the reverse side of the leaflet?]


  5. The discussion here between socialists in the LP and socialists outside the LP is to be welcomed as it could serve to “clear the air” as to the way forward after the re-election of JC as leader of the LP. That is only the first step.The real task is to see if it is possible to transform the LP into a mass socialist LP that will fight to defend and enhance the living standards of working class people as capitalism has spectacularly failed to do so over the past 30 years. In fact, since 1979 the share of national wealth that has gone to labour, the only source that can create value, has gone down with direct attacks on wages and conditions and indirect attacks with the erosion of the social wage in the form of public services.

    Socialists in the LP have long been arguing in the Party that the only way that the interests of working class people can be advanced is through socialist policies. It has not been an easy road as the leadership of the LP has consistently put forward policies in and out of government that have mostly benefitted the banks and large corporations and only marginally working class people in the form of, for example, the minimum wage. The ideology of the LP was one of making capitalism work not challenging it. The refusal of Labour governments to repeal the Thatcher anti-trade union laws is just one example of how Labour in government served the interests of Capital.

    The arrival of Jeremy Corbyn (JC) reflected two parallel developments; the growing anger among many LP members that the policies put forward by the LP were Tory-lite and the opening up of a political vacuum in the LP that needed to be filled by alternative policies. JC’s arrival as elected Labour leader was a necessity that was met through an accident. The accident was JC getting on the ballot paper last year and the necessity was the growing demand by LP members for different policies to TINA – there is no alternative.

    JC’s position as leader has created space in the LP for the ideas of socialism as an alternative to capitalism and has attracted hundreds of thousands into the LP. Both of these events have sown fear into the hearts of the political representatives of Capital in the LP, the Blairites and their acolytes, and have created panic in the Establishment. The last thing that they want is a mass LP moving in the direction of socialism. That is why right from the outset both inside and outside the LP there have been moves to stage a coup against JC. The longer he stays as leader, the harder it will be to remove him. However, even with the election of JC, the balance of power in the LP has remained fundamentally the same. It is not the members who decide what should be done but the paid officials whose job should be to run the LP on behalf of the members. For that reason the LP has to be changed both politically in the form of socialist policies, and organisationally in the form of members having the right to determine those policies and elect locally and nationally representatives, councillors and MPs, to carry out those policies.

    What has been the position of SPEW during these developments? Up until 10 months ago the SPEW maintained the political position that it had had since the early 1990s – the LP is a bourgeois party no different to the Tories and therefore we need a new working class party. The SPEW set up the Campaign for a New Workers Party (CNWP), sought to attract trade union support for the project and had some success with the RMT and the FBU, and in recent years stood candidates in elections through TUSC in the hope of building a mass basis for a new party. During this period those of us as socialists in the LP were accused by SPEW members of being left covers for the LP right wing and the bureaucracy and therefore a hindrance to the building of a new workers party. We retorted that while the overwhelming majority of working class people looked to the LP to solve their problems, the chances of building a new party were greatly reduced.

    Since the election of JC as LP leader, the SPEW has changed its position despite recognising as above that “the old machinery still rules undemocratically” in the LP. The first stage in the new SPEW position was conditional. It said that if the LP became more socialist and more democratic,it would consider joining the LP. In other words, socialists in the LP would fight to change the LP and once gains has been made politically and organisationally, the SPEW would join. We in the LP therefore do all the work and the SPEW comes in to…..make gains for the SPEW?

    The latest position of the SPEW is that they want to affiliate to the LP. Given that new people coming into political activity are orientating towards the LP, there are gains to be made for the SPEW. But what would be the gains for a mass LP of more than half a million members if the SPEW affiliated with its 1,500 or so members? To be blunt. What would the elephant gain from affiliating to the flea?

    I welcome socialists into the LP. We need socialists to deepen and broaden the struggle to change the LP. There are very good comrades in the SPEW who could play a role in trying to change the LP, but that can only be done from within the LP. And this is where the SPEW has a problem. Over the past 25 years it has taught its own members that the LP is a Tory party and now it wants to affiliate to a Tory party! In addition, as some of the SPEW members have said above, why should they abandon an organisation they have built up during this period. Thirdly, they want to maintain a safety valve to mop up disillusioned LP members if the JC project fails. In other words the SPEW affiliating to or joining the LP would be to build the SPEW and not the LP. And that is a contradiction that at this moment in time they cannot overcome.

    With comradely greetings.

    Darrall Cozens


  6. Reply from the author of the post, ‘J.C’ :

    I confess to being slightly surprised at the response of the Socialist Party to what was an essentially throwaway piece. However, as they are clearly so upset and have produced a detailed contribution, I will respond in turn.
    In the first instance, I think it’s a shame that they have responded in such a defensive way and also misrepresented the post as one from the whole group, when the blog is clearly advertised as being a space for members to express their personal opinions. It’s why I signed it off with my initials and it wasn’t headlined as “Momentum South Birmingham statement on…….” which we have always done previously when we put out views as a group. I look forward to the Socialist Party acknowledging their error.
    There should be a culture of debate on the left and there is nothing wrong with commenting and critiquing when individuals and groups make errors, especially when the stakes are as high as they are at the moment. I have read a number of articles by fellow socialists highly critical of the tactics and politics of Momentum in the last year and haven’t taken mortal offence at them.
    That said, I welcome the SP’s engagement, as I was pleased that they accepted our invitation to debate the EU referendum a couple of months ago.
    So, in no particular order:
    • It is a simple statement of fact that the two largest Trotsykist groups in the UK have refused to argue for their members and supporters to join the Labour Party. There are two reasons for this – in the first instance some of their members have previously been expelled and so are unable to, but most others if they wished to do so could. But that would involve them abandoning the “tactic” (which latterly appears to have become a principle) of standing candidates against and advocating votes for candidates standing against the Labour Party, which for reasons that continue to baffle me they refuse to. And if that necessitated resigning from the Socialist Party, then I would say to those people: so be it. There are bigger issues at stake than the long-term prospects of a group whose high water mark was several decades ago (when they were in the Labour Party and would never have contemplated standing against the Labour Party…….)
    • Taaffe’s interview where he sought affiliation to the Labour Party did surprise me I have to confess. Partly because it was so badly judged and the man is no fool, but also partly because it represented a huge about-turn. He and his organisation have spent the last couple of decades arguing that the Labour Party was no different in character to the Tories and that a new mass party of the workers, a Labour party mk.2 if you like, was required. The victory of Jeremy Corbyn has proved this thesis entirely wrong. And yet nothing, ever, from the Socialist Party or Taaffe accepting their mistake.
    • The attempt to suggest that I am in favour of the witch-hunts is desperate, dishonest stuff. What I am in favour of however is not making the right’s job as easy as possible for them. And whether they like it or not, the attempt by the Socialist Party to have their cake and eat it, to seek affiliation to Labour whilst refusing to abandon the strategy of standing against Labour, is hugely problematic and makes it impossible for groups like Momentum to actively collaborate with them, allow them to be in Momentum or argue for their (re)admission into the Labour Party.
    • If individuals previously in the Greens, TUSC, Left Unity, SLP, etc. are willing to respect the rules of the Labour Party (i.e. support the Labour Party!) then they should be welcomed into the party. If previously expelled members of Militant seek readmission I would support their readmission. But again, that would be on condition they support the Labour Party. The same goes for organisations seeking affiliation. They have to support the Labour Party. It’s quite a simple notion.
    • “Of course the rabid media sought to use the Socialist Party to attack Jeremy Corbyn.” The problem is that Taaffe’s words, whether deliberately or not, made it incredibly easy for the media to do so. There is nothing unprincipled about a bit of discreet silence if it serves the wider cause, and that cause right now is getting Corbyn re-elected. Taaffe is a wily operator who has been around a long time. Surely he understands this. He must have known the headlines that would follow. It isn’t a case of answering criticisms – Taaffe offered them the material willingly. That, in my view, was a huge error and does him and the Socialist Party huge discredit.
    The Socialist Party command a decent amount of respect on the left as they are seen, rightly, as a serious organisation. There is a lot we can learn from their role in Liverpool and the movement to oppose the Poll Tax. Some of it is bad but an awful lot more of it is good. I would gladly see them back in/affiliating to the Labour Party tomorrow if they were willing to accept the basic discipline of the party.
    They have always been welcomed to South Birmingham Momentum’s public meetings and always given the time they desire to put their views across. But there is a quid pro quo with that – they have to be willing to accept some robust analysis of their own views and strategy. That strategy, and the notions that underpin it, have been proven wrong by events. But because they refuse to (publicly) accept this, they have spent the last year or so tying themselves in ever tighter knots.



  7. Peter b

    I agree on the whole JC. And with darrall. sPEW have been proven wrong on the LP becoming a simple bosses party. It had a right wing dominant leadership, now it has a socialist as leader. This is because the LP is seen as the party of the working class and it is linked into the trade unions. So when the class starts to move a gainst the Tory government and against capitalist austerity it looks to the LP for leadership. For many years the left in the Labour Party has been marginalised and working class people have not been given a lead by them. Many have thought things hopeless and some have gone towards the socialist left outside the LP.
    Now we have seen a greater unity with hundreds of thousands joining LP to support Corbyn. The thing is that Spew, left unity, SLP etc are lagging behind developments. They need to catch up. The SWp will not support joining the LP and build rediculous alliances like the People’s Assembly which is very left wing but can’t support Corbyn because some people in the alliance won’t like it! it can’t make too many demands on the trade union leaders either, because it is funded by the unions officially. It’s so left wing though, and packed full of revolutionaries, but they aren’t allowed to act like revolutionaries because that would offend someone else in the alliance.
    If there ever was a group needing a new direction it is The People’s assembly. Momentum should really not be afraid to argue in People’s assembly for people to join labour and support Corbyn / momentum. The October 2nd demo in Birmingham is an opportunity for Momentum to recruit!


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