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Our debates must be comradely and informed

DebateOfManyColoursRecent discussions on Left Futures have shown a disturbing tendency on the left which at best gets in the way of meaningful debate about the many problems we need to resolve and at worst puts others off from participating and feeds straight into the image of the left that the right-wing media tries to cultivate.

The slightest participation in discussion on the left quickly reveals deep-seated differences and it would be foolish to expect anything else. On the other hand most of us realise that the election of Jeremy Corbyn provides us with an opportunity for left advance that, to be frank, was not of our making and took virtually all of us by surprise. To squander that opportunity with time-wasting argument and abusive exchanges would be to show complete disregard for our responsibility to make the most of this unexpected opportunity.

To be clear, I am far from agreeing with everything that Jeremy Corbyn says. I even think that he should learn to keep his opinions to himself on matters which are not of current pressing policy concern to the Party. The situation of a leader, in this respect is different from that of a campaigning backbencher and I don’t think that he has yet, despite his many achievements, made the transition required from the one role to the other.

Reasonable criticism must always be in the frame, I want to support Jeremy Corbyn and John McDonnell in their quest to change the Labour Party and to change the tone of politics more generally. Inevitably, however, there are those whose concern for the purity of their own dogmatic pre-conceptions has lead them to start shouting “betrayal” even at this early stage. I regard that attitude as beyond the pale of reasonable discussion. My points are not addressed to such people.

We have many problems to resolve. They will not be resolved by force majeure. If the control freaks of the Labour right-wing are replaced by control freaks of the left (and there are definite signs of that) then it is a certainty that the process will end in tears. A self-appointed and self-righteous left clique will ultimately be found wanting and without a base and will cry “foul” as they are turfed out of their positions by a resurgent right.

The only way for the left to succeed is by practising what it preaches. If we see the question of Labour as one of who controls the top jobs while the mode of working remains the same then the whole thing will be bound to end in tears. I am already seeing signs of this. Not only do slates appear for NEC elections which are clearly decided by a tiny group of people without the possibility for any broader input but it is turning out to be as difficult to communicate with the left-wing ‘movers and shakers’ as it was with the previous right-wing position holders. I have sent repeated requests to Momentum nationally without getting either a reply or even an acknowledgement. I have written to leading individuals to make suggestions and ask questions without the slightest response, even after several reminders.

There is just no way the left will succeed on this basis. The capturing and holding of positions is one thing but the policy vacuum is quite another and the ‘mover and shakers’ of the left may delude themselves that they have clear answers to the many problems we face but they clearly do not – since if they had such a secret why would they not be letting us in on it.

So the only solution is the broadest possible involvement of the largest numbers possible. I do not have to spell out in detail what that requires. Materials must be prepared to launch a wide range of debates which themselves have to be organised. To date there are precious few signs of this happening even when it would be relatively easy to do so. Why for example has every unit of the LP not been asked to discuss and respond to Emily Thornberry’s defence paper?

Blogs like Left Futures can play an important role but that means improving the quality of debate so that they encourage wider participation and constructive outcomes. To this end I want to propose to LF that it adopts some simple ‘house rules’ for participation. It is distinctly embarrassing that the recent discussion of David Osland’s article on anti-Semitism degenerated into the worst sort of knee-jerk reaction to the extent that it included comments which can be plausibly interpreted as anti-Semitic along with others which were straightforwardly libellous. The whole thread was deleted. A more recent discussion on the book by Max Edwards was littered with offensive language and personal abuse. These things are harmful to the left as a whole and need to stop (or be stopped).

I propose that contributors to Left Futures should abide by the following simple guidelines.

  1. All disagreements must be expressed in polite and respectful terms.
  2. Language which would be considered unacceptable in a normal public meeting should be regarded as unacceptable on Left Futures.
  3. Personal abuse is unacceptable.
  4. Arguments put forward must be dealt with on their merits and not on the basis of the supposed motivations, or personal history, of the person who put them forward.
  5. When references are made to information which it is not reasonable to assume are common knowledge an effort should be made to indicate sources. Where possible, hyperlinks should be provided to those sources.
  6. Contributions should in the first place seek to comment on the content of the article to which they are a response. Where they are a response to another contribution an effort should be made to link back to the points the author of the article was trying to make.

Contributions from people unwilling to adhere to these simple rules should be deleted and they should be sent an email giving a brief explanation for the deletion. Persistent offenders, if clearly unable or unwilling to accept reasonable norms, should be banned from the site because they are a deterrent to others looking for comradely and informed discussion from different points of view.

37 Comments

  1. John Penney says:

    Good post, David. and good suggested guidelines. Difficult not to get drawn into personal attacks when debates get heated . But as you say, there have to be some reasonable limits on how fractious debates can be, otherwise people who might contribute just avoid the site because they don’t want the personal abuse.

    Like you I am completely mystified by Momentum’s current modus vivendi. I would like to build a branch out in the boondocks of rural North Shropshire – and with help from Momentum actually set up a web page. Then I asked Momentum to at least supply an indication of how many people had signed up as Momentum supporters in North Shropshire – to see whether calling a meeting might be viable. No help or reply (though Momentum sent out a ludicrously bureaucratic monthly ” Momentum progress report” form to complete ! The Momentum website is no help in building Momentum at all – with no listing even of where branches are – and no “meetings coming up” news to tell supporters where Momentum is active ! And since the supposed formation of a Momentum National Committee nothing has changed.

    This is such a waste of the huge supporter database Momentum built up during the Leadership contest. I can only conclude that so far the self appointed Momentum “leadership” are terrified of actually involving the supporters – in case they want to go in a direction these people wont want – to get stuck into the Labour Right perhaps ? Perhaps Momentum’s supporter base is seen as a captive “stage army” of the tiny self-appointed leadership group. Unfortunately the momentum will quickly run out of Momentum without supporter involvement. The imminent move to a paid up member base might improve this ?

    Unfortunately , David, the Let, historically, has very bad “form” for bureaucratic manoeuvring, intolerance, attachment to crazy simplistic theory- as -dogma , and a predilection for witch-hinting of “heretics of the current orthodoxy”. So I don’t hold out great hopes that Left Futures can transcend this dire tradition easily.

    1. David Pavett says:

      Thanks for the comment. I share your concerns. Yesterday I came this ridiculous questionnaire on the Momentum website. It asks us to choose our “top three campaigning issues”. Apart from the rather obvious missing choices this is exactly the same sort of marketing nonsense that we got from New Labour and One Nation Labour. They haven’t understood that if you give a list like that then respondents need to be able to order the whole list. Without that important issues can easily fall through the net of choices. The people putting up this sort of thing are, I guess, either old chronies who haven’t yet made the transition from smoke filled rooms or young graduates who haven’t yet questioned much of what they were told at university. Whatever the explanation is the upshot is unhelpfully amateur.

      The communications problems you describe are outrageous and Momentum needs to explain this and come up with a solution. It has full-timers. What are they doing exactly? One thing is for sure: they are not spending time on its website which is stunningly uninformative (just like Labour’s websites). What about making use of the help that many of us who are not in the inner circle would be willing to give?

      1. J.P. Craig-Weston says:

        “Censorship is telling a man he can’t have a steak just because a baby can’t chew it.”

        ― Mark Twain

        I profoundly dislike and entirely mistrust your, 9tediously predicable,) proposals above ,for a sanitized and policed forum, moderated by, people like you, “and my mates,” and where dissent, criticism, (no matter how robust and forthright,) and self expression are no longer welcome or even tolerated.

        The expulsion of Walter Wolfgang for his blunt, outspoken, entirely honest and accurate comments from the Labor party conference a few years ago and his subsequent detention under the anti terrorism laws was seminal moment in the collapse of the Labor party and your post above illustrates much the same kind of discomfort with criticism.

        As did John Lansman’s recent blanket deletion of all the inevitably contentious and even perhaps even personally offensive comments in response the article about anti antisemitism in the labor party which we were never really given any opportunity to read or to consider or to respond to.

        But the real problem; and this also part of the story of the current sclerotic and enervated state of British politics, (certainly of British democracy,) is that once you start to censor people’s options, (and lets be honest that’s what you’re really proposing here,) you never really stop, even when the only criteria is some tedious middle class conception or even prejudice, (“I’m not prepared to talk to you if you’re going swear,” which would immediately debar 90% of the people that I know; but then perhaps that the real point,) of good taste or upholding, “decent,” values. values.

        Censorship, always a tact most favored by corrupt and oppressive regimes everywhere;, is always also used as crude to prevent criticism or even reporting of corruption, (to my mind the current state of parliament illustrates this perfectly,) graft, abuse of power and influence etc, all in the name of decency and good taste.

        If you’re not comfortable with the freedom of speech and expression that so often and so refreshingly in evidence here then perhaps it’s you who are in the wrong place.

        You also come across, (and again this is characteristic of most people who resort to censorship,) s some who, having the worst of the argument, the wants to, as it were slope the previously level playing, (open debate and fee speech,) field more in your own favor.

        The only outcome of which would be to reduce the often vigorous and impassioned debate here to a typical pleasant and agreeable chat between like minded and narrow minded individuals equally about issues and topics on which they already agree, even if the rest of us think most of it complete and utter crap.

      2. J.P. Craig-Weston says:

        OK, upon re-reading the comment above, once again I’ve possibly taken off at bit of tangent and perhaps done you an injustice, (although I would hope that I have not descended to this,) “Difficult not to get drawn into personal attacks when debates get heated,” as is that other pitfall, of finding yourself Trolling without necessarily meaning to, although the issue of censorship is one about which I feel very strongly and I still think that my views expressed below are entirely relevant to this.

        But even if you do succeed in what will effectively amount banning the left from the debate, that won’t particularly make much deference to us or to our opinions, convictions and principles, after all without us what exactly is the point of the Labor party then supposed to be?

        1. J.P. Craig-Weston says:

          “What is freedom of expression? Without the freedom to offend, it ceases to exist.”

          ― Salman Rushdie

      3. rod says:

        “ridiculous questionnaire”

        Momentum hasn’t even existed for one year.

        Democratic consultative procedures will take time to develop and will require a membership structure.

        In the meantime we’ll have to make do with the snap-shot approach.

        And if anyone wants to set up a Momentum group, go ahead. If it’s democratic and not associated with any party that opposes the LP there shouldn’t be a problem. The group can later be absorbed into a more formal national structure when it exists.

        1. john P Reid says:

          I voted getting extremists out of the party, democratcising he party and other( the economy) as the 3 options

    2. Verity says:

      I share you concerns about the lack of (M)(m)omentum. However having shared several attempts to move things along, I have concluded that it is less of a conspiracy that it seems.

      My explanation is more that the organisation is largely made up of the completely inexperienced (hoping that there is some learning on the job); a high tendency to spontaneously (ill – considered) decisions and responses; inabilities or understanding of the next appropriate steps; exaggerated anxieties about what the press might discover about unguarded comments or discussions; great anxiety about the other ‘political party committed’ leftists, who may be hostile to Labour; obsessions about any concerns of the PLP ‘Hostile/Negatives’; absence of good planning and the lack of any resources to put some of these things right. I am comforted to some extent that perhaps this is a necessary stage in its development. Wholly new people have entered the stage and there is only a tiny of number of busy, leading Labour Left-wingers. Maybe Podemos has even more of these problems.

      But there is evidence that some of these anxieties are leading to organisational damage. A recent meeting that, ‘pre-election’ led to an attendance of 500 for Corbyn (when everyone was invited and location was known)) was recently reduced to about 100 (for McDonnell when only Party members received invitations and the location was kept secret). Affiliated Supporters and Supporters only knew of the event when hearing from others during their Labour Party election campaigning of which they were in the majority doing the on – ground work.

      In my view PLP invalid reactions has had more a traumatising shock than has been acknowledged.

  2. C MacMackin says:

    Good post. I would add one more guideline for comments: Don’t automatically assume that disagreements arise from someone being a, for example, Blairite, Stalinist, revisionist, or opportunist. People can come to different conclusions based on their level of knowledge of a subject, their subjective reading of the situation, their past experiences, etc. In those situations, it is best to find out where the root of the disagreement lies and proceed from there.

    1. David Pavett says:

      I completely agree. These epithets should all be dropped. They are okay in conversations with people with whom one is confident of a common understanding of their meaning. Outside of that they become terms of abuse and cloud rather than clarify. Not using such shorthand requires and effort from most of us but it is one we need to make.

      1. J.P. Craig-Weston says:

        Perhaps we all need to go a compulsory training course before we’re regarded as being suitably qualified to participate ?

        If we want other people’s opinion; we’ll tell them what it is, is that it?

        Seriously?

        1. David Pavett says:

          No that’s not it at all and nothing that has been said would justify that view. The point is that participation in debate over difficult issues requires that we are all careful do so in a way that is most likely to maximise areas of possible agreement and to avoid antagonistic ‘position taking’.

  3. Bazza says:

    A very good piece David, I think we have to learn not to lead but to facilitate.
    After all don’t we want to inform, politicise, and empower the masses of working people so we fundamentally transform society together?
    Good point about NEC slates.
    Somehow we are asked to vote for the NEC Left Slate (which I will do) but decided by whom? The Great and Good of the Left (whom I love and will vote for) but where is the equal opportunity for left members to stand and for fresh ideas?
    For example Momentum (and others) could ask interested people to send 500 words or so on their ideas, then left members could vote by post and on-line for the top 7 etc.
    I am afraid it is all still a bit top down and the Left should know better.
    I would also like Labour to harness new technology for democracy, so more on-line voting too.
    Many people can’t always make evening meetings because of caring roles, work etc. but we can still give them a voice on-line although I recognise you can’t beat face-to-face discussions which is a failing of on-line interactions.
    Equally I would like anyone interested in being a Parliamentary candidate to be able to register an interest on a CLP website with one side of A4 on their ideas.
    We would have to have a limit on the number of CLPs you could register for then the CLP (if they chose to, for example they may already have a brilliant left wing MP) could vote on a shortlist of 6 from this of which at least 2 should be female, 2 working class, at least 1 BME/LGBT/Disabled.
    These are as always only ideas to be thought about, and I am not precious as though they are the perfect solution.
    I only usually post perhaps once per article here and always usually in response only to the article by the main author.
    I want to share my ideas but I do wonder if some of the comments here may actually drive readers away and may even put others off from posting altogether.
    Just step back and think of the post by Max, a young socialist with a terminal illness -only 4 out of something like 27 actually responded to his post and in my view there was a lack of dignity and respect from some (actually a lack of humanity).
    I tried to engage with Max’s ideas and shared my thoughts as someone who has had a lifetime’s experience in Labour and unions plus of reading.
    I do believe in the saying that you should treat people like the World you want to be.
    Some sites have moderators and perhaps we could trial giving this right to the author who posts the original article (the same role as a tutor)?
    If this was higher education (and you need a stimulus response document) some of the comments on here if they were by students would probably fail because of a complete lack of engagement with the original arguments and some could even be in trouble for being offensive.
    Also a good point about sharing papers and getting feedback from below.
    Some have criticised the Left in the past for being disorganised and we shouldn’t blow this historic opportunity.
    Some of us are organised Brothers and sisters but perhaps its time to stop trying to lead, and time to start learning how to facilitate members power.
    As always in solidarity!

  4. Sue says:

    The email below may throw some light on the Momentum situation?

    Dear Sue,

    Last summer, we didn’t just elect Jeremy Corbyn as Leader of the Labour Party but sowed the seeds for the biggest progressive movement in a generation. Momentum waters those seeds so we can build a movement to transform society, energise the Labour Party to become the transformative governing party of the 21st Century, and see Jeremy in Downing Street.
    Tens of thousands have already been involved in Momentum: setting up over 120 local groups, launching countless local initiatives, and being active in national campaigns.

    But we can and must do so much more. Momentum is becoming a membership organisation so that we can more effectively spread the values of participatory democracy and solidarity. Membership will launch on Tuesday 5 April 2016. Please look out for an invitation to join in your inbox.

    First, we’d like to ask you to help shape our campaign priorities. Tell us what issues most matter to you and what campaigns we should develop and prioritise.

    What are your priorities?
    We can’t remember a more dangerous or exciting time in politics. This Tory government is making life more difficult for the overwhelming majority of people and savaging so many of our communities while feathering the nests of the few.

    But, as well as anger, we now have hope. We have a Labour Party that explicitly opposes austerity, with Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell destroying the Tories’ economic credibility. We have a government divided and on the ropes as Osborne’s cruel, politically motivated austerity is exposed. And, we have in Jeremy Corbyn a leader of real integrity, determined to stand on our side, with a bold vision of a better society.

    Now is the time to be politically active. If not now, when?

    What are your priorities?
    Please look out for your invitation to become a member of Momentum next week and encourage others to join. We need as many members as possible to be a powerful force for social change and be able to deliver your priority campaigns.

    We thank you for all you’ve done so far and hope you’ll join us as Momentum members next week.

    In solidarity,

    Adam Klug, Emma Rees, James Schneider (Momentum National Organisers)

    http://www.peoplesmomentum.com/

    Momentum is funded entirely by donations from thousands of supporters across the UK.

    Make a donation

    This email was sent to susieb1211@aol.com because you signed up to keep in touch with Momentum or the Jeremy Corbyn leadership campaign, to which Momentum is the successor. To stop receiving emails from Momentum, click here to unsubscribe.
    Privacy policy. Promoted by Momentum Campaign Ltd at 10 Melton St, London, NW1 2EJ. Created with NationBuilder

  5. John Penney says:

    Yes Sue, I think we all got that EMAIL, as signed up “Momentum Supporters. Unfortunately it is “focus group” type garbage ! ” What are your priorities ” indeed ! And then, as per all “top down consultation” exercises , the “leadership” is free to announce what the priorities are. Very “New Labour” – and utterly worthless in building an activist mass movement on the Left within Labour – and beyond.

    It may be that establishing a proper membership base will transform Momentum into a democratically-run pressure group and campaigning organisation to help the Left build support for radical Left policies, AND, vitally, organise the newly renascent Left within branches and CLP’s to win power from the entrenched Right. However so far – huge amounts of initial momentum has been lost because of the self appointed Momentum core team’s apparent terror of the press and Labour Right being nasty about Momentum. And an understandable, but organisationally debilitating, fear of entryism by the distracting stirrers of the tiny Far Left grouplets.

    If Momentum doesn’t start to behave like a proper mobilising force on the left within Labour very soon it will simply evaporate as an entity -and the undeclared but real ongoing civil war in the Labour Party will require an alternative activist radical (“Corbynist”) Left pressure group which will take the fight to the Right in the Party – and mobilise effectively around key issues that the members have arrived at by a democratic process – not some useless “New Labourish” , type focus group consultation exercise.

  6. Tony says:

    “Our debates must be comradely and informed”

    Generally, a good article.

    However:

    “Arguments put forward must be dealt with on their merits and not on the basis of the supposed motivations, or personal history, of the person who put them forward.”

    But people do have motives that they seek to conceal. Neil Kinnock, for example, claimed after the 1987 election that he had to change Labour’s non-nuclear defence policy because the electorate simply would not accept it.

    However, he now admits that as leader of the Labour Party, he never supported it in the first place!

    “From the early 1980s really, I recognised the unsustainability of the unilateral nuclear disarmament policy.”

    John Sargeant:

    “What surprised me when I interviewed Neil Kinnock for this programme was that he insisted his view on unilateralism had changed long before the 1987 General Election”.

    “Analysis” BBC Radio 4 29 February 2016.

    I think it is undemocratic not to be able to question somebody’s motivations. If Kinnock’s views changed when he now says they changed, then we are entitled to ask why he did not announce it, explain why, and seek election in 1983 as leader of the Labour Party on that basis.

    1. David Pavett says:

      Yes, what I said about motivations needs to be nuanced. It is okay to say “X says Y but what he really means is Z” providing good reasons are given for the claim. My problem is with sloganised thinking in which it is considered to say that someone is a Blairite, a Stalinist or “middle class” or a “posh boy” as if fixing such labels stood in place of an explanation and a justification. So yes, discuss motivations where these can be demonstrated to exist rather than being mere assumptions (anyone can play that game).

      1. John Penney says:

        “labelling” can be grossly unfair and even libellously untrue. The recent pretty heated/intemperate “debate” ,( and indeed most discussions on the Left on this issue) , on Israel/Middle East/Palestine , provided ample evidence of this “caricature labelling” problem.

        However sometimes in debate attaching a descriptive “label” (which can be justified by more than simply spiteful bile) is a way to avoid paragraphs of explanation as to the multi-layer background assumptions behind another contributor’s position. For instance, there is a specific complex organisational and ideological history behind the essentially radical neoliberal Right element in the current Labour Party, which is accurately characterised as “Blairite” – for its total commitment to capitalism, privatisation, pro-anti trades union laws, hostility to current levels of welfare provision – commitment to the myth of progress via individual effort, fetishism of the “rule of Law” , deep personal financial ties to Big Business interests , etc, etc, etc. It’s too laborious not to use the term “Blairites” for this cohort of the PLP in particular.

        Some argue this isn’t getting to grips with the umpteen subtle variations of anti Corbynists in the PLP and wider party. Nevertheless in most instances – when yet another PLP member spews his/her damaging bile about the current Leadership and the Left direction of the Party to the mass media – it is a useful, if perhaps “broad-brush” label which has value.

        As with a number of other labels, eg “Stalinist”, which can indeed be misused – but does unfortunately accurately describe the political background , and therefore political positions, of a surprising number of Labour Party people who see themselves as genuinely “on the radical Left”. Any weekly read of the Morning Star illustrates the continuing reality of the “long shadow of Stalinism” on political perception and therefore, political positions on issues. The Morning Star is always superb on domestic issues – but go abroad for its viewpoint – and its as if the Comintern was never wound up ! and why is that ? Because the Morning Star (and CPB of course) is still profoundly influenced by its Stalinist traditions.

        1. C MacMackin says:

          I’m certainly not denying that there are people out there whose perception has been shaped by Stalin. However, I can’t personally recall any instance I’ve seen on this forum where I think the label would be accurate. I guess some of the people who are automatically pro-Russian are. Most of the time it just gets used to imply that someone has totalitarian ambitions because, e.g. they moderated a comment or expressed support for laws banning hate speech.

          My broader point was simply not to automatically assume that someone is arguing in bad faith. People can make dumb arguments which play into the hands of Blairites or Stalinists without being one themselves. I’m not calling for a blanket ban on using those labels, but perhaps it would be more productive to ask “How is this argument different from that of the Blairites?” rather than accuse the arguer of being a Blairite.

          The other point, which we’ve been dancing around, is the need to balance brevity with not using too much jargon. Unfortunately, that’s a difficult one to manage and I guess everyone just has to use their own discretion.

        2. James Martin says:

          ‘Stalinist’ is normally just a lazy form of abuse with no actual justification behind it in my experience. This is not to say that things in common with the term don’t exist in the movement, but there are differences. Those behind New Labour (who were also connected to the British American Project) had not only a desire to neutralise socialism from the Party, but also a wish to undemocratically centralise it often by ‘stalinist’ methods (it was no accident that a number of key New Labour figures came from the old right of the CPGB). The most extreme result of that process was the worsening of machine politics, not least in Scotland and with terrible results.

          But in the wider movement I do wonder what use labels like ‘stalinist’ are. Yes, there is still a ‘socialism in one country’ British road to socialism mentality from the CPB/Morning Star, but there is also not a lot of love from most of those comrades for Stalin himself these days and their paper is generally non-sectarian and open. The same is true of the small Weekly Worker/CPGB group who came technically from a Stalinist (CP) tradition but who do not from what I can tell promote ‘stalinist methods’. Contrast that to most (all?) of the ‘Trotskyist’ grouplets who seem to one extent or another to be intolerant, sectarian and undemocratic and the issue of labels becomes an absurdity (although I realise this could be countered with a more general label applied to all these groups – stalinist and trot of ‘Leninist’).

          Meanwhile the ‘old’ Pre-2015 left in the Labour Party (CLPD, LRC etc.) was so organisationally small that we all tended to rub along very well and have by necessity a pragmatic and non-sectarian approach. This is not always the case with some of those who have joined more recently and who have sometimes come with a certain baggage from failed sectarian disasters like Respect, Socialist Alliance, Left Unity etc., and who often it appears to me are having problems adapting to being in a mass organisation (for a change!), particularly when it comes to things like language. I don’t mind things being shaken up, they needed to be, but at the same time newer comrades need to learn quickly that when it comes to maintaining a positive leftward direction in the Labour Party you need to adopt different – and far more patient – approaches to being in in the shouting sects outside the Party.

        3. Peter Rowlands says:

          No, I’m sorry John, quite wrong on the anti Corbynistas where an important distinction is to be drawn between the Blairites, whose traits you describe, and the traditional right wing Labourites, mainly grouped under the ‘Labour First’ banner, who are less admiring of neoliberalism but are generally more socially conservative. This remains an important, but non Blairite current in the Labour Party.
          I also get annoyed with the misuse of the term ‘Fascism’ which is often wrongly applied to any unpleasant right wing regime.

      2. Tony says:

        Good clarification!

        1. Tony says:

          Actually, I can remember the 1983 newspaper ads during the general election.

          “Like, your manifesto, Comrade.”

          It compared Labour’s manifesto with that of the Communist Party. One of the policies both parties had in common was withdrawal from the Common Market. No attempt was made to argue against any of the policies.

          Today, of course, a lot of Conservatives seek withdrawal from the institution formerly known as the Common Market.

          And, of course, Michael Portillo opposes British nuclear weapons whereas Neil Kinnock supports them (and has done for over 30 years).

          1. James Martin says:

            I also find it very ironic (and not a little unsettling) that whenever the SDP traitor Lord David Own speaks these days I find myself without realising nodding along, such as when he supports exiting the EU, scrapping Trident, building diplomatic bridges with Russia, opposes Nato intervention in Syria and the ME (in favour of a UN approach), opposes the internal NHS market, disastrous foundation hospitals and strongly supported last year Caroline Lucas’s progressive NHS bill. The thing is I don’t actually believe he has moved to the left since he exited the Labour Party, which underlines horrifically how far the political ‘centre ground’ and the Labour Party has moved to the right over the past 35 years.

  7. Karl Stewart says:

    For me, this article seems to aim at two different issues, firstly the tone of debate on this site and across the left and secondly the progress (or otherwise) of the Momentum group/initiative.

    I don’t really have an opinion on the Momentum issue.

    On the other question, which appears reasonable, I’d suggest that it’s very difficult to determine exactly what constitutes non-comradely and non-fraternal debate (outside of the very specific no to threats of violence, racism, sexism, etc that no-one would disagree with.)

    Yes, people on the left do get very fractious with each other, but it’s because people on the left and in the working-class movement in general care passionately about issues, and their outcomes actually matter, in a way that Oxford University debates just don’t.

    For me, it’s similar to the difference between rugby and football. Rugby is always being held up as an example of ‘good sportsmanship’ and of ‘playing the game’ while football is always criticised by comparison.

    But this is because in football, outcomes actually matter, whereas rugby is just the ruling class at play.

    1. David Pavett says:

      Feeling passionate about the issues is natural. Why would we spend so much time on this stuff if we were not strongly motivated? That, however, should not detract from our reasoning and the way we present our arguments. It is possible to completely disagree with someone and to make this clear in a calm and reasonable way. John McDonnell has turned out to be something of a model in this respect.

      I don’t think it is so difficult to tell the difference between comradely and uncomradely debating styles.

      My article was motivated by some truly outrageous stuff in recent Left Futures discussion threads. I believe that sort of thing is harmful to the left as a whole.

      P.S. You say that “rugby is just the ruling class at play”. Try saying that in Wales.

      1. Karl Stewart says:

        Yes I partly agree with you David and I welcome your article.

        I don’t like to read contributions littered with anachronistic political labelling either. The terms “stalinist” and “trotskyist”, for example, are worthless as political shorthand and simply tell us that the author is fairly old and probably right wing, while the term “zionist” is quite problematic.

        So I do agree with a lot of what you’re saying, it’s just that we should try to encourage contributors not to use such anachronisms and to explain their viewpoints in normal language more, rather than try to set rules around them.

  8. J.P. Craig-Weston says:

    But then the comment here seems almost always be, “about,” unemployment, about the decline of manufacturing, about the dreadful situations that poor, about the dearth of social housing, about how unemployed and the disabled are increasingly being victimized and almost never ever, (as far as i can tell,) from anyone whose is actually working in manufacturing, (for the minimum wage or on a zero hour contract,) or is actually living in social housing or who are themselves poor, unemployed or disabled etc.

    Just the usual suspects; aspiring journalist, ex teachers public service and local government officers and so on, in fact there is real danger of this forum becoming little more than a kind of pornography for the middle classes.

    Most of the people that I know already feel that there’s little or no point in even bothering to try engage in this kind of debate and rather than increasing the numbers of people involving themselves in political discussion, I think that your proposals will have exactly the opposite effect, but then I’m equally sure that many people in the, (already dying,) labor party would probably welcome that.

    Which is perverse, but then people are like that.

    1. David Pavett says:

      It is a pity that you don’t explain your claim that my proposals would have the opposite effect to the one intended. Without any sort of argument there is not much anyone can do with the claim.

      You (repeated) point that there are too many middle class people writing articles and commenting, as opposed to people working in manufacturing or on zero hours contracts doesn’t have much bite. Have you ever noticed that the majority of anti-illiteracy campaigners are not themselves illiterate? Have you not also noticed that the majority of working people in the UK do not work in manufacturing. It should also be pointed out that the majority of people on zero hours contracts are problem under pressures that don’t put writing for left-wing blogs at the top of their priorities. In other words there is a need for realism in all this.

      It might also be pointed out that teachers and other public sector workers are dependent on their earnings just like workers in manufacturing.

      To criticise what I, or anyone else, has written you need to engage with the arguments. Pointing out the social origins/position of the writer cannot be considered as an acceptable substitute for explaining your point.

      1. J.P. Craig-Weston says:

        Clever, spurious and trite all in the same breath. well done.

        As I’ve pointed out here previously for most of, “us,” Corbny’s humiliating defeat over the bombing of Syria marked the last gasp of the British Labor party as serious political or moral force and this crap is simply an entirely predicable and inevitable corollary to that failure.

        Even without Labors responsibility for the events in Rochdale, Rotherham, Mid-staffs, etc; McMahon’s and others apparent graft and tax dodging, (which far from being unique or uncharacteristic just McMahon seem only too characteristic of the general state of the rotten political racket that Labor party has now become,) and so on, about which there is never ever a single word here anyway; almost if, as far as labor are concerned non of it ever happened.

        But it did.

        Labor lost well over a million votes thanks to Blair, I doubt that Momentum will get many of them back

        It makes little difference to me weather I participate or not, (most people that I know whether of the Left or or not already regard it as vain and pointless exercise,) and the labor party, (as represented by people such as yourself,) in the UK seems not merely defunct, but is become a tired, increasingly wearisome and entirely pointless joke to most people. (this was true 10 years ago when one people I then worked with asked of Blair, “whats wrong with him, I thought he was Labor?”)

        Personally and for historical and moral reasons that I can no longer be bothered express here, I think that the Left are probably better of without Labor, (characteristic by so many unpleasant and smarmy little men and women such as yourself; my personal opinion based on our occasional conversations) and probably always were.

        1. J.P. Craig-Weston says:

          Oh and get a job.

        2. David Pavett says:

          “Clever, spurious and trite all in the same breath. well done.”

          Low-level abuse but not an answer to my points.

          “… the labor party, (as represented by people such as yourself,) in the UK seems not merely defunct, but is become a tired, increasingly wearisome and entirely pointless joke to most people.”

          More low-level abuse and still no answer to my points.

          “Personally and for historical and moral reasons that I can no longer be bothered express here …”.

          I see, you can’t be bothered to explain. That doesn’t make for much of a discussion.

  9. Karl Stewart says:

    (P.S. I was of course only referring to Rugby Union. Rugby League is a great working-class sport.)

    1. J.P. Craig-Weston says:

      Well speaking someone some who has recently spent 4 months out in all weathers repairing, (almost single handedly,) the damaged stone terracing, (bloody hard graft,) at our local Rugby Union Club as a volunteer, once again that would not necessarily reflect my own experience.

      But without prejudice; I found all them to be thoroughly decent and down to earth bunch, but I have admit that I fail to share their obvious joy at chasing a misshapen ball round a muddy field, without any obvious rules and then beating the crap out of each other for no comprehensible reason ?

      But each to their own.

    2. Peter Rowlands says:

      Wrong again Karl. Rugby Union in Wales is a popular working and all other classes sport, although this is not so in other parts of the UK.

  10. David Pavett says:

    This discussion thread has shown that most of us are agreed on the main points of the case I argued.

    Either as a result of the discussion or for some other reason the horrible stuff seems to have been moderated out from the LF discussion threads, and much they better they are for it too.

    I try to be thorough when I write my pieces but I must admit to an enormous oversight when I wrote this one. I had never noticed the LF Comments policy (link at the bottom of the page)!

    It is good and covers most of the ground of my proposals. I suggest that the two sets of guidelines should be merged and that a link to the policy should be at the head of every discussion thread. Anyway, things are already looking better and thanks to everyone for a good discussion.

  11. Bazza says:

    Just a final thought about on-line discussions.
    I was reading about Communication Skills recently and the piece argued that 80% of all communication is non-verbal.
    So online (unless you are on Skypte or so) you don’t see the other human beings – their facial expressions, their posture, you don’t hear their tone of voice etc – we are just dealing with words – and words can be powerful but they can also be wounding.
    It would be a bit different perhaps if we were all sat in the same room.
    Of course on other sites people are more anonymous and use odd title names are here you get trolling etc. but imagine would they act the same if they had to us their real name?
    By the way in case you are thinking I just use my first name because I had a bad experience on another left site from a so called fellow socialist.
    So treat those who are generally on your side like the World you want to be.

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