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Dear Tom, about this Trotsky thing…..

watson-nick

There’s a story that Charlie Chaplin was once confronted by a question from a journalist about his religion. At the time it was said by many that Chaplin was “secretly Jewish.” Here, the use of the adverb “secretly” passes judgement on the adjective Jewish. Why would the movie star want to hide his faith, if indeed he was Jewish? The implication was that he was ashamed, maybe he thought Judaism was actually something to be feared and hidden away.”Many people believe you are Jewish, are you?” asked the reporter. The icon’s response was as sharp as his genius, “I do not have that good fortune,” he said.

To have answered in the negative, no matter how politely, might have confirmed that there was indeed something malign about Judaism, that needed to be hidden. Perhaps that was the questioner’s intent. However, in one sentence Chaplin had completely disarmed his inquisitor. The power of language to distort our perception of the world is remarkable. Thankfully Chaplin’s own command of words, and quick wit, was able to counter any negative connotation.

I’ve thought about this story a lot lately; about how the subtle use of language can prime people to respond in a certain way to ideas and groups, be they ethnic, religious or political. Of course we’ve seen this many times recently in the context of the ongoing leadership challenge in the British Labour Party.

Consider the recent elections to the party’s ruling body. A number of pro-Corbyn candidates have now won seats on the National Executive Committee, as a result of a democratic process, and at the expense of the right-wing incumbents. Interestingly, in reporting the result, journalist Michael Crick chose to suggest that one of the defeated candidates, Johanna Baxter, had been removed after she had spoken out about bullying in the party. In doing so he used the word ‘ousted’.

Of course in reality this individual’s seat was simply up for reelection, in accordance with party rules. Unsurprisingly, given the demographic and political shift inside UK Labour, candidates supportive of the leader are more likely to triumph in a vote, and consequently they did. The NEC election was a thoroughly peaceful process, conducted by mail and online; no insurrections or uprisings. Why then is it necessary to describe this as one candidate ‘ousting’ the other.

Screenshot 2016-08-10 at 23.28.14

Could the answer lie in the fact that those six letters, that make up the word ‘ousted,’ convey the impression of struggle, maybe even a violent one? Perhaps it was revenge for speaking up against alleged harassment? Crick’s tweet, above, could certainly be construed in that way. I believe this is not an accident, and is instead part of a consistent and, in some cases, orchestrated attempt to associate radical left-wing views with violence and intimidation, and thereby discredit them.

When such phrases are uttered we are justifiably incredulous, and absolutely correct to reject and challenge the narrative being created. However, how should we respond when the attacks are more subtle and insidious, as seemed to be the case with the one faced by Chaplin?

There is a correlate here. I am talking now about the use of the phrase ‘Trot’ or ‘Trotskyist’ to describe Corbyn’s supporters, and to associate this with violence, “arm twisting” and intimidation. This has actually been going on ever since Jeremy’s campaign inspired half a million people to ‘infiltrate’ the Labour Party, but it has now reached truly hysterical proportions.

BRIGHTON, ENGLAND - SEPTEMBER 30: Deputy Leader of the Labour Party Tom Watson delivers the closing speech to delegates on the final day of The Labour Party Autumn Conference on September 30, 2015 in Brighton, England. On the fourth and final day of the annual Labour Party Conference, delegates will debate and vote on an emergency motion detailing strict conditions for the support of military action in Syria, as well as attending talks on healthcare and education from Labour politicians. (Photo by Ben Pruchnie/Getty Images)

This week Tom Watson, Corbyn’s deputy, launched an astonishing and utterly ridiculous attack on his leader’s supporters. In it he claimed that “Trotskyists are twisting the arms of young Labour members” It is a rant of such hysterical proportions, that I genuinely don’t know where to begin. On the one hand, I want to point out that Tom seemed perfectly happy to court the support of these alleged revolutionaries, when he was running for deputy leader; on the other I want to rail against the implicit insult to young members who, he suggests, can’t stand up for themselves or make up their own minds.

It would be easy to portray this as just a last, desperate attempt to cling to power, through smears and innuendo. And to be fair there is some truth in that. The challenge to Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership, is actually an attempt to ‘oust’ a man who was democratically elected only ten months ago. Ironically those involved have used intimidation and bullying in the PLP and on the back-benches, in order to “break  Jeremy as a man” and force him to resign. When that failed, Angela Eagle and Owen Smith emerged as challengers. Since then every attempt has been made to ‘stitch up’ the election, by closing down meetings, and denying members, thought to be pro-Corbyn, their right to vote.

In reality those attempting to cling to power, against the wishes of the membership are failing, and as a result their language and tactics have become increasingly desperate. But let us be clear, their attempts to use the word ‘Trotskyist’ as an insult, are both politically illiterate and designed to place certain ideas beyond the political pale. Many have taken to social media in response, in order to deny that they are ‘Trots’. However, if we are not careful, such fervent denials could end up doing the job for them.

The overwhelming majority of new Labour members would not describe their political ideology in this way. I am sure most have never engaged with Trotsky’s work, let alone joined an organised group. However, does that mean that we have to accept the word as an insult, without really understanding who the man was and what he stood for?

For the record Leon Trotsky was a Bolshevik who fought against the rise of bureaucracy and ‘Stalinism’ in the former Soviet Union, following the death of Lenin in the early 1920’s. The rise of an elite within the Communist Party was suppressing all dissent, and for the crime of fighting this, Trotsky was exiled. He struggled to find refuge in a hostile west. Ultimately he found himself in a state, he eloquently describes in his book, ‘My Life: An attempt at an autobiography’, as being “on the planet without a visa”. He was eventually brutally murdered by Stalin’s agents in Mexico.

Trotsky-RevolutionBetrayed-1937-dj-lores

Trotsky was a dissident in Stalin’s Soviet Union

Of course when it comes to revisionism and demonising ideologies, Labour, and in particular the right-wing of the party, has been here before. It is perhaps no surprise that, in trying to rid themselves of troublesome members who don’t want to march to their tune, they fall back on familiar tactics. However, there appears to be dissent, even within their own ranks.

In a surprisingly sober and honest interview in the Guardian this week, Peter Kilfoyle, the man charged with ridding the party of any vestige of “Trotskyism” in the 80’s, stated that Labour’s current mass membership bears no resemblance to those who joined the party decades ago.

He describes Momentum as people disenfranchised and ignored by Labour over many years, and who have found, in Jeremy Corbyn, someone who represents their views. Militant, he states, were a tightly organised group, with a particular ideology and a strategy formulated over many years. Words he could easily have used to describe the ‘Blairite’ takeover of Labour and the ‘Progress’ group, but never mind.

Kilfoyle’s analysis aside, there is a supreme irony in the fact that we now have bureaucrats in the British Labour Party, suppressing dissent and democracy in ways Stalin himself would be proud of, and using the word ‘Trotskyist’ as an insult. You couldn’t write it, except I just did.

I’m not trying to recruit a new army of supporters for the former Soviet revolutionary here. I’m simply asking, once again, that people think critically before accepting the narratives of others. Find out for yourself and don’t allow others to tell you which ideas and thinkers you can listen to. Perhaps we would all do well to respond, as Chaplin did, and refuse to accept the negative connotation.

Am I a Trotskyist? I do not have that good fortune.

47 Comments »

  1. I find it Ironic That these people that think they represent us …Just don’t listen to us !They have tried from day one to under mine JC .With backing from influential corporate backers .They are the ones segregating this party .I am not a trotskyite .But a person who believes in social justice .If they do not have these value then they should not be in the party and if they do ,they should unite behind the democratic leader Smiths idea of a second referendum on Britex .proves that he has no conception of democracy .unless it suites him .for once please represent the people that elected you ….other wise get out .we are not thick sheep to follow self serving egotistical megalomaniacs.

    Liked by 3 people

    • The silent majority is a common go-to argument for people who have nothing left. What’s worrying is it often carries weight. Ken Bates used this argument when he was in charge of Leeds United and the Kop was demanding he leave every week

      I wish I knew the best way to deal with but the people making the argument have the polls on their side. I don’t think the polls really say anything because they are measured firmly within the parameters of the status quo of political discourse, but the game has changed and therefore the way we measure things must also change.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Thanks Mark. On the one hand I could say polls are irrelevant at this point. Labour was edging ahead prior to the coup and of course the perception of chaos and infighting will have seriously damaged Labour. On the other hand I’m bound to say I’m deeply sceptical about polls. I’m not suggesting Corbyn is way ahead but polls predicted UKIP win in Oldham and Lab won with 70% likewise disaster predicted in local elections – didn’t happen. We need to focus on defeating the coup then uniting around a socialist programme – if we can do that I believe we can win. Thanks for reading and commenting

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  2. Wonderful article.

    In all honesty I have been completely mystified by this whole ‘Trotsky’ thing. I have been trying to understand exactly what they mean?

    Surely everyone who considers themselves as “left” would share Trotsky’s values? Why is this an insult? Why specifically are “Corbynistas” Trots? So essentially we have Tom Watson (a Union man) hating a key architect of his very own existence? Does this make him a “Self-hating Trot”? Or, (in his sidelining of Corbyn in the wake of the Parties leadership chaos) more of a “Stalinist”?

    Or is it because Trotsky had a real understanding of how to use the existing infrastructure of state to affect lasting change? Again surely this is a compliment?

    Then I realised I have been thinking far too deeply about this. The term is being swung around bruttishly like the fists of a school yard thug. I guess the term “Trotskyist” will at least be good company for the term “Feminist”- they can keep each other company in their long winter of Siberian exile.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. While the life and career of Leon Trotsky obviously has relevance when discussing Trots, there’s more to it than that. At the risk of offending Trots and/or Rastas it’s a bit like defining Rastafarianism entirely through the life story of Haile Selassie. Here’s the wikipedia entry on the Fourth International(s) https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fourth_International.

    The key thing is that the the actual Trotskyite organisations are small, fractious and fractured. When several hundred thousand people join your party, even if that included every single self-identified Trot in the country (unlikely), they would be lost in the crowd.

    Liked by 2 people

    • I accept your points Peter about the difference between the man, his ideals and the state of Trotskyist groups today and I also agree that their numbers are relatively small in comparison to Labour’s new influx. That said it still worries me that the language used is designed to put certain ideas “beyond the pale” which is unacceptable to me. Thanks for reading and replying with some really good points

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Excellent again Jeff. My, you write well! I have been interested in this whole labelling thing for a long while now. ‘Moderates’ ‘Hard Left’ ‘Entryists’ ‘Trotskyists’ etc. There must exist a playbook of what are considered to be dog whistle words or phrases that they know will colour the narrative. The BBC is especially venal in this regard. Bias becomes the default position by the use of loaded phrases.There is also a sneering attitude when interviewing anyone who challenges the establishment view. Yesterday was a case in point. Peter Allen on R5 interviewing a rep from the RMT was totally aggressive and dismissive. No corresponding interview with management to question their arguments, of course. And so it goes on.
    Keep up the good work

    Liked by 2 people

  5. As a lifelong Socialist who has familiarised myself with most of the ‘isms’, I find the tossing around of pejorative terms both disgusting and unsurprising. They are mostly used by people who have not thought things through and have no idea of the background surrounding early movements to battle oppressive regimes. I’ve always regarded the Labour Party as a true Socialist party. However, the Blair years denied social principles in favour of capitalist aims whist conning everyone that it was for the people and not for big business and rich rewards for those at the top. What we are seeing now is a reaction to what the last thirty years has brought us. Real social conscience may now be just about recognisable as it’s emerging from the mire. It is a great, great pity that there is a movement of the Blair era bloc who are determined to deny the real needs of the country, as Blair did, and seek to destroy the Labour Movement for their own aggrandisement thereby damaging the whole ethos of a real, socially representative form of Government where the needs of all the people in general are served and not just the few.

    Liked by 2 people

  6. An excellent analysis and a most pertinent point you make, Jeff. The manipulation of language to subtly (or perhaps otherwise) invest in the reader, an unconscious dismissal of a particular viewpoint, is a strategy used all too often in our media. Indeed, it has led me to search wider for my information and also start to write my own blogs in the hope that a more balanced commentary is available. I was pleased to stumble across your ‘ramblings’ which bizarrely reflect my own motivation… ‘An ordinary bloke from South Yorks’ lol. Thanks for the read. Relevant and informative.

    Liked by 2 people

  7. Good article, but if you are going to use grammar as evidence, get it right.

    “the adjective “secretly” passes judgement on the noun Jewish.”

    “Jewish” is the adjective and “secretly” is an adverb.

    Like

  8. Thank you for this post, really excellent! Will share far and wide!

    I’ve been openly a feminist online for a few years now; it used to be quite a dangerous thing to admit to not so long ago and is still treated by many as a ‘dirty word’. The present ‘Trot’ stuff seems almost amusing compared to the threats of violence and rape myself and friends have received over the years. However, this is still an extremely frustrating narrative and one that, as a Corbyn supporter, I must admit to finding infuriating – perhaps more than I’d like to admit.

    I found the wonderful communities I was involved in a valuable source of knowledge regarding putting your view across without being caught up in needless anger and arguments. The best lessons I ever learned were that many supporters of the status quo resort to gaslighting and controlling the narrative. Once you understand these two concepts suddenly you see that very many supporters of ‘business as usual’ have no other tools.

    It helps… a little.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you for that personal insight and how awful that you have suffered such unacceptable abuse. I applaud the fact that you hold firm to your beliefs in the face of all that. You are right once you strip the proponents of the status-quo of their ability to manipulate us, they have little left and the realisation that we are the many and they are the fee begins to sink in. Thanks for commenting

      Liked by 1 person

  9. Here’s what a facebook friend of mine wrote in commenting on my threaded share of Jeff Goulding’s very good piece above: ” Tom Watson is about as two-faced a bastard as it’s possible to be without injuring oneself. He was in the forefront of that campaign to frame Leon Brittan as leader of an HoC-based paedophile ring. Of course, appealing to the gutter press is much easier than politically fighting a party with which one has few serious differences. (Sadly, many on the left went along with the witch hunt even though a moment’s thought suggested the evidence was worthless. That dispiriting fact may help explain why few seem willing to remind him of his role.)
    However, though the appalling Richard Littlejohn was within his rights to call him The Nonce Finder General, Watson nevertheless managed to keep silent on the highly credible accusations that former Labour MP (by then a Lord) Greville Janner Watson was up there with Jimmy Saville.
    I don’t know which is worse – abusing one’s position falsely to accuse a man of sexual offences (LB’s political crimes being a different matter) or abusing one’s position to cover up for a serial child abuser. Tough call, that one but what cannot be disputed is that anyone assessing the current witch hunt should remember that Watson has “previous”. I agree with that.

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    • Jeff’s post is great and I totally agree that Watson is behaving despicably over Corbyn.
      However I’m afraid I completely disagree with your points about Leon Brittain and Watson’s stance on the child sex abuse allegations.
      In fact, there is rather a lot of similarity between the demonisation of Corbyn and his supporters and the demonisation of survivors of child sex abuse and those who try to support them.
      Both groups are subjected to smears and slurs and practical attempts to silence them, both have to contend with a hostile media, both have the truth turned on its head in arguments that paint the victims as the bullies.
      The impression that false accusations of historic child sex abuse are routinely hurled at innocent people by gold diggers or the mentally unstable is completely unfounded. There is ample evidence that the reverse is the case, victims rarely report the abuse they have suffered and are often ignored or disbelieved if they do. Even if they succeed in being taken seriously, historic abuse is difficult to prove and they face a hostile media and traumatic courtroom testimony.
      Abusers – especially powerful abusers – routinely get away with it – just look at Cyril Smith or Jimmy Savile. It is extremely rare for powerful abusers to be brought to justice during their lifetime.
      Anyone who supports a man of principle and integrity like Jeremey Corbyn and his quest for social justice and a kinder gentler politics, should also support the quest for justice for victims of historic child sex abuse.
      They have been despised, disbelieved, belittled and silenced for far too long.

      Liked by 2 people

  10. An excellent piece as I think most of the commentators using “Trot” as a term of abuse have not got a clue about Leon Trotsky. I notice that when describing those who do not agree with Jeremy Corby the media is now using their old favourite “moderate” when in fact the shenanigans of Tom Watson and the six members of the Procedures Sub-Committe is the exact opposition of moderation.

    I

    Liked by 2 people

  11. I have been giving the Watson outburst some thought, as it has a national relevance.

    Watson has breached Chapter 1, Constitutional rules, Clause IV., Aims and values of the 2016 Labour Party Rule Book, para. 1., which states ‘The Labour Party is a democratic socialist Party. It believes that by the strength of our common endeavour we achieve more than we achieve alone, so as to create for each of us the means to realise our true potential and for all of us a community in which power, wealth and opportunity are in the hands of the many not the few; where the rights we enjoy reflect the duties we owe and where we live together freely, in a spirit of solidarity, tolerance and respect.’

    By using the term ‘trotskyists’ to describe loyal party members, Watson has clearly not acted ‘in a spirit of solidarity, tolerance and respect’. The same is true of others like him.

    This should be reported to the Labour Party General Secretary and a request should be made to hold a Special NEC Meeting, at which his breach of Chapter 1 of the Rule Book should be discussed and he should be instructed to issue a public apology to everyone he has offended with his language. If he refuses to agree to this, his membership of the Labour Party should be cancelled.

    On a more general point, anyone making the kind of remarks he has made should be reminded that in doing so not only is he in breach of the Labour Party Rule Book but he is betraying his country, his party and his leader.

    Organisations like Momentum and individual party members are loyal members and supporters and it is those who refuse to put our country’s interests first before those of foreign, alien and hostile powers first who are betraying our country and all of us in the UK.

    Questionable loyalties can play no part in the British Labour Movement.

    Some PLP members fall within the category of placing other countries first but they have compounded their treachery by deliberately undermining the electoral prospects of the Labour Party by refusing to support a democratically elected Leader of the Labour Party.

    Such factors as these will very definitely have to be borne in mind when re-selection of candidates necessitated by parliamentary boundary changes comes into effect.

    Labour MPs displaying disloyalty to our country, party and leader must have no future.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Thanks John, a very detailed assessment. Much of the behaviour of the so called moderate wing of our party, in the PLP, on the backbenches and by the NEC, could be said to breech the standard you set out and which is in our constitution. I believe that until there’s a radical shake up of the party beuracracy this will continue. I was especially pleased with the recent NEC results. Thanks for reading and commenting

      Liked by 1 person

  12. I believe my grandfather, (who jumped from pub windows during the General Strike and the formation of the Labour Party) would be disgusted by the Blairite faction and their attempts to destroy democracy within the Labour Party. As you say a rabid authoritarian media have only benefited from their self-aggrandising attempts to cling to power, hurting the Labour cause. There seems to be a similar media narrative running around the word ‘socialist’ which seems to have spread to the UK from the US. Thankfully here in New Zealand we’re distinguished as not being ‘friends’ of the US as we refuse nuclear warships, long may it last even in the face of the TPPA.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Thanks Simon. You are right I also believe that those who founded and built the party, and those who supported and maintained it, like your grandfather, would be appalled by what it has become. I hope they would be heartened by our fightback

      Liked by 1 person

  13. “a last, desperate attempt to cling to power, through smears and innuendo.” – apparently not! Have you seen the Michael Foster article in today’s Daily Mail, accusing Corbyn supporters of being Nazi stormtroopers?!
    Getting so desperate they are now beyond a joke.
    Your post is brilliant btw, thanks.

    Liked by 2 people

  14. Thoughtful piece on language. Interesting when you criticise the right you are told that the Labour Party is a “broad church”. Not broad enough it appears to include a few Trotskyists who have joined the Labour Party as it begins to use the word socialism Again. I don’t see why this is a problem? The PLP wants an army of leafleteers and workers at election time, seems less keen when the army starts talking politics and coming over all demanding? I await with interest the party’s response to Michael Foster describing us as fascist storm troopers. I’m sure a lesser donor would be suspended- let’s see?

    Liked by 2 people

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