26 JANUARY 2010
PSC Executive Accuses Its Opponents of Being Zionist Agents
Executive Response to Criticism is to Restrict Democracy Further
Last summer, 13 of us (subsequently 27) sent a letter to Palestine Solidarity Campaign Executive. It is copied below*: As can be seen, we raised issues concerning the way PSC was being run. In the Annual Report of PSC Executive, which has just been sent (to some people) it states that ‘in August a group of 13 people made unsubstantiated allegations to the EC.’
A cursory reading of the Open Letter demonstrates that it wasn’t alleging anything, merely asking questions. Having the audacity to raise such questions was, however, deemed an act of lese majeste. PSC Executive and its Socialist Action/Communist League components, don’t do accountability and transparency.
A Stalinist Charge Sheet from ex-Trotskyists
The whole of the relevant section of the Annual Report, ‘PSC Internal Matters’, is copied below.** It reads like a caricature of a Stalinist charge sheet during the Moscow Trials. We are not authors of a letter asking questions, we are‘perpetrators’. We are not calling for a debate or discussion, we are subjecting the EC to ‘public calumny.’ And most shocking of all, the authors (including two who were the co-founders of PSC) are accused of ‘help(ing) those who want to see PSC fail in our efforts to build a mass movement.’ This is the big lie at the heart of the passage. If you oppose us you are on the side of the Zionists and want us to fail.
This kind of argument has a long pedigree. In the 1930’s, in Stalin’s Purges, Zinoviev, Kamenev etc. were accused of simultaneously being in league with Trotsky and agents of Hitler. The logic was that if you opposed Stalin you were bound to be a paid agent and lackey of Hitler.
It is the staple argument of the war monger. If you oppose ‘our troops’ you support the other side, a traitor in league with ‘our’ enemies. This was the argument of Thatcher and then Bush. If you oppose us you’re with General Galtiera/Saddam Hussein/Al Quaeda. It has all the intellectual and moral sophistication of the younger Bush, albeit without his eloquence.
In fact there is very little use the Zionists can make of debates inside the Palestine solidarity movement. It is a measure of the desperation of the PSC Execitove that instead of dealing with the arguments they resort to the kind of rhetorical device that McCarthy and his House of UnAmerican Affairs specialised in.
A couple of years ago UK and Israel JNF were at each others’ throats in the High Court. After the expenditure of millions of pounds, with virulent attacks on each other, they settled their differences. Did this affect support for the Zionists? Of course not. Support for the Israel and Zionism depends on things such as Israel’s latest war, their settlements, the discrimination etc., not whether Betty Hunter and Tony Greenstein don’t see eye to eye on whether PSC should be democratic or not.
Healthy debate in PSC, if it leads to a rejuvenated and vigorous organisation and serious thinking about where we are going and how we can best get there, can only do the cause of Palestine solidarity good. The idea that, in the name of Palestinian unity, critics of Socialist Action/CL should shut up, can only damage the very cause that they purport to support. What PSC Executive are trying to achieve is some kind of para-Leninist command organisation. The Executive decides the priorities and campaigns and gives the orders and the membership blindly follow.
The problem is that some people have their own ideas and are not always convinced of the Executive’s god given wisdom. Especially when PSC Executive reacts in its normal, cautious, hesitant and sometimes hostile manner as it seeks to retain control over PSC. Because control freakery is the other side of their political timidity.
Democracy & PSC Priorities Above all this is about democracy. PSC’s Executive Report complains that critics of the EC are not using PSC’s ‘democratic processes’ and resorting to blogs and open letters. But this begs the question – what democratic processes or forums are there to debate where PSC should be going or doing or how it should be conducting campaigns? No doubt they exist within Socialist Action but not within PSC. There is no means, other than through personal contact, for PSC members to communicate and exchange ideas with other members across branches. In fact PSC Executive have made clear their dislike for the whole idea of regions – ‘another layer of bureaucracy’ in the words of their more sycophantic supporters.
In this debate PSC Executive have access to the whole of PSC’s machinery to attack a letter that most people haven’t seen. We have no such opportunities hence why this article has to be put on a public blog. Nor do we have unfettered access to PSC’s mailing list.
The libellous accusation therefore of wanting PSC to fail should be seen as exactly that – a libel no different from the Zionist lie that to be an anti-Zionist is to be an anti Semite.
It was similar behaviour by Socialist Action which helped lead to extremely unfavourable publicity for Ken Livingstone in London and his downfall. But at least Ken knew the political affiliations of those he appointed as his advisors. In PSC this information is hidden away andwhen challenged PSC Executive members deny that they are members of Socialist Action. In the meantime SA are running PSC according to their political agenda. And at the top of that agenda is never, ever criticising the Palestinian leadership and Abbas, even if the latter is faithfully following Israel’s agenda by withdrawing the Goldstone Report from the UN’s Human Rights Committee.
Many on PSC Executive see its role as some kind of not campaigning but diplomatic. We are there to influence government and act as an adjunct to the quisling Palestinian Authority in Britain. And how? By lobbying individual MPs.In their eyes, Britain’s pro-Zionist political stand has nothing to do with economic interests, imperialism or domination, still less capitalism. It is because individual MPs haven’t been ‘won over’. No doubt they will have even more fun with Cameron’s government given that 80% of Tory MPs are estimated to be in Conservative Friends of Israel.
When it comes to pickets and activities, PSC Executive are nearly all conspicuous by their absence. Most of PSC Executive are there not as activists but to make up the numbers. Ahava, Agrexco, the Windsor JNF picket, Barak picket – you’ll be lucky if more than one EC member attends at best. Two States is the objective and above all, it is important that a solidarity organisation engages in no internal debate about Palestine. Because if there were a thorough going debate PSC would have to face up to the fact that not only is an independent Palestinian state impossible but that to continue to campaign for this now means in effect to accept that Israel is right to deny political and civil rights to the Palestinians of the West Bank and Gaza. That is the real apartheid.We have one state already, but nearly half the population have no rights whatsoever.
And it might also mean having to face up to the fact that Israel’s junior partners-in-crime are the Arab regimes. It was noticeable at the picket of the Egyptian Embassy over the attack on the Gaza Freedom March and Viva Palestina recently there was just one member of PSC.
The argument is often made that we are just a solidarity movement. But that is a cop-out. The first question that people often ask is what is our solutio. What do we want to see? Are we to say that we want to see Israel as a Jewish state established in harmony side by side with a Palestinian state? Do we accept that Israel, as a Zionist state is acceptable even behind the Green Line? Is this a solution to the question of Return? What about Israeli Arabs? Of course in practice these issues are buried and ignored in the hope they will go away. This means illusions in the ‘peace process’, [‘Will Obama do this etc.]
An example of how PSC’s priorities are distorted is the Gaza convoy, Viva Palestina. When the first convoy went at the beginning of last year, PSC nationally did nothing to help organise support for it. Remarks such as we are a political organisation and this is merely charitable were made by officers. But the recent convoy was supported (although the PSC Office didn’t let people know on a daily basis what was happening). So much so that Ms Collector went on it and Ms Colborne flew out to Egypt at one point. Why the change of heart?Because following the defeat of Ken Livingstone, Socialist Action have pulled out of entry work in the Labour Party and are now chasing George Galloway in Respect. They have even revealed their existence in a newly created, albeit sparse, website. And if there is a falling out of love with GG then we can expect PSC to drop its enthusiasm for convoys. This is the kind of sleight of hand thatmost members of PSC knowing nothing about. PSC’s choice of a campaign isnow inseparable from Socialist Action’s own political priorities.
The section of the Annual Report on the resignation of 2 EC members is telling.Why were members of PSC not informed of the resignations? Why was the Branch Forum not told of the resignation of our Vice-Chair Kamal Hawwash and ex-Treasurer Zoe Mars? Why was there even an attempt to prevent them speaking?
Despite being ‘unsubstantiated’ the fact is, as Betty Hunter herself admitted to the Sheffield forum, that Sarah Colborne is a member of Socialist Action. She moved across from being Chair of PSC to Direction of Campaigns and Organisation. There is nothing wrong with this in itself, though it is unusual. And nor do I, or any of the signatories to the Open Letter, have any objection to PSC staff or EC members being members of any left-wing political organisation. What we object to is when small and secretive groups (SA/CL) with at most a hundred members, actively conspire to take over another organisation and run it, PSC, in line with the political priorities of Socialist Action/CL.
‘Our recruitment practices are fair and in accordance with equal opportunities’ the Annual Report states, yet it also states that ‘in July Ruqayyah Collector was appointed as Campaigns and Communications Officer.’ Ms Collector was also the last member of the National Union of Students Executive, elected on the Student Broad Left slate. PSC’s Student Officer, Bryony Shanks, was SBL’s unsuccessful candidate for NUS Executive and a member of SA.
It is a matter of common knowledge that SBL is Socialist Action’s student front.It is puerile and dishonest to pretend otherwise. What PSC Executive have effectively done is sub-contract out its student work to the weakest of all the left political factions in NUS. By any standards that is pretty stupid. Far from building alliances, as they claim, they are destroying any possibility of them.Hence why they were taken by surprise and at a loss to say anything, when a wave of occupations broke out in colleges and universities at the beginning of 2009 in protest at Israel’s savagery in Gaza.
And when one takes that with the short-term appointment of SA member Denis Fernando, the advertising for whose post was tightly restricted, this means that 3 of the last 3 staff appointments have been from one particular, small political faction. Is this really a coincidence? If so, the odds on winning the jackpot on the National Lottery are smaller.
The Annual Report speaks of ‘personal abuse’. Perhaps it was thinking of Hilary Wise’s e-mail of 10th February 2009 to me. This was her response to the fact that I had disclosed on this blog a secret memo from PSC Trade Union Officer Bernard Regan to cronies and friends in the trade unions (some not even members of PSC), urging them to come to PSC AGM to oppose any motions that sought to break links with Israel’s racist ‘union’ Histadrut and to vote in favour of his own slate.
‘Like everyone else I know and work with closely in PSC, I am interested in the issue of Palestine and am working hard to try and change the situation. I don’t recall ever having seen TG at any of the dozens of meetings, demos, vigils, lobbies film shows etc where you find genuinely committed activists.’
Strangely I’ve never seen Ms Wise at a demonstration in Brighton either, nor for that matter in London! PSC Executive’s attack dog followed this up at the September Sheffield Branch Forum when even her supporters tried to shut her up, accusing me of being a ‘wrecker’. Presumably she meant helping to found PSC! Or maybe PSC EC was thinking of the time when Dianne Langford, in anopen letter last summer (circa September) bizarrely referred to
‘the letter addressed to you plus copies of various emails originating from Tony Greenstein, including one urging the Merton branch not to affiliate to PSC and trying to recruit members to join the `opposition’ to PSC.’
There was of course no e-mail to Merton branch, but why let that come between the facts and Ms Langford? Ms Langford’s previous claim to fame was ensuring that the SWP was kept off PSC’s Executive. Langford’s letter went on to allege that:
he [Tony Greenstein] and Roland Rance demanded that PSC should use its resources on a speaking tour denouncing Arafat and the PLO. The then National Secretary of PSC, John Gee, was castigated for standing firm on the principle of self-determination for the Palestinian people…. At the last AGM, while Gaza was still burning, valuable time was spent debating an unnecessary resolution on the issue of the Histadrut.’
The letter and e-mail Langford speaks about have only ever existed inside her head. They are total inventions, but why let that get in the way of a good story? But Langford lets slip what is the purpose of her fantasies. Boycotting Histadrut, as every Palestinian trade union and PACBI call for, is seen as a diversion by PSC Executive. It might even mean a disagreement with their trade union buddies. And what Ms Langford says openly PSC Executive says behind closed doors.
PSC AGM 2010
On the 6th February PSC will hold its Annual General Meeting. Socialist Action/CL’s response to our letter expressing concern at the lack of democracy in PSC has been to put forward constitutional proposals which, if passed, will all but destroy PSC’s democracy. There will be an annual conference, but its powers will be limited. It will certainly not be sovereign, even theoretically. The Trade Union Action Committee, whose membership is unknown and is not open to ordinary PSC trade union activists or members, at present sends 2 delegates to PSC Executive. Constitutional amendment 5, which has clearly been instigated by the Executive, suggests that the representation of TUAC be doubled to 4! As these places are Bernard Regan’s gift, this will mean that a fifth of the EC (4/20) will be ‘elected’ by another member of the EC.
Constitutional amendment 4, by the same 2 individuals, suggests that organisations, i.e. trade unions with 500,000 members should be entitled to 7 votes at the Annual Conference (an increase from 3). So the GMB, which tried to amend the FBU motion to the TUC Congress to substitute ‘regret’ for ‘condemn’, in reference to the statement of Histadrut supporting the attack on Gaza, will be entitled to exercise 7 votes at a meeting of a body which is pro-Palestinian.
PSC has provision in Clause 6 of the existing Constitution for 5 regional representatives to be elected. This clause has never been operated and when Northern Network tried to so earlier this year, bureaucratic obstacles were put in its way by the EC. This is totally understandable from the point of view of SA. If you are a small group trying to control a larger group, then you don’t want the Executive Committee to be diluted by people that you can’t control or indeed what you may perceive as alternative centres of power. So the two movers speak express their ‘concern regarding the proposal for a formal regional structure of PSC is that it would divert local energy away from contributing to actions co-ordinated through a national campaign.’
Clearly devolution hasn’t yet made an appearance in PSC but in fact nomachinery or bureaucracy is proposed. The idea of a diversion from national campaigns is laughable. This is a feeble excuse for keeping all power in the hands of the Executive. The establishment of regions would not only enablebranches to co-ordinate campaigns more effectively but would enable individuals not in any branch to participate. Indeed the only ones who talk of bureaucracy or a diversion of energy is the Executive with their proposals for a ‘devolved administration’ i.e. the policing of the regions.
The real reason for this amendment becomes clear when reading Constitutional Amendment 3 from the Executive. They propose a new Point 9.6 of the Constitution. It is proposed that the election of regional representatives takes place not in the regions but at a London AGM. The reasoning is quite obvious. It is to ensure that SA can more effectively mobilise votes, in London, behind their preferred regional candidates. Because they do not trust the membership, they cannot allow the elections to take place in the Regions. It is as simple as that.
What we have is an Executive that has run out of ideas except to exhort the membership to more routine activity. Rallies with Ken Livingstone and George Galloway are the main way of organising students rather than building with allforces in the student movement who genuinely support the Palestinians.Coupled with resolutions that lie in the filing cabinets of trade union general secretaries, an annual march and lobby of Parliament, this is the EC’s preferred annual cycle of activity. Routine activity ends up as little more than the Executive congratulating itself on another ‘successful’ year. It means going through the motions whilst in practice mounting no effective political challenge to the British government’s support of Israel. Political initiatives are to be frowned upon but they are not easy to control.
Yet none of these routines makes the slightest difference or impact as far as the Palestinians are concerned. The one thing which has been shown to rattle the Zionists and Israel is Boycott. Because it hits the settler state where it hurts most and in Israel’s case, it also hits its image and political support. The Academic Boycott set off a wave of activity in Britain, yet the EC initially opposed such a tactic and has had an uneasy relationship with Bricup. The relation of PSC Executive with its own Boycott Committee, which has in practice led to the setting up last year at the gathering at Wooller Youth Hostel of the Boycotting Network, is similar.
On trade unions the EC and Bernard Regan prefer to ally with an assortment of minor trade union bureaucrats, headed by Hugh Lanning of PCS, rather than develop an ongoing network of activists. Cosy chats between trade union friends – past and current – might seem a short-cut to success but what it means is allowing the Trade Union leaders to dictate to, and even control with SA, PSC’s work in the unions.
Union leaders spend much of their time dampening down strikes and struggles.They are innately conservative creatures. Their support for international struggles is strictly limited and ideas like Boycott are not well received. Trade unions in this country are now very weak, having lost half their members in the past 30 years. PSC Executive are, in effect, suggesting we model ourselves on organisations which themselves are controlled by Executives which deplore independent activity by their members. To allow union leaderships, even the more left ones, to tie our hands, is to weaken our campaigning abilities.
The purpose of work in the unions is to get them to support us and to show solidarity, not to enable them to take us over. Autonomy is a principle worth fighting for yet it is being surrendered by a sect in order that they can retain their own power. Motion 2, from Kevin Courtney (NUT) and John McGee (FBU) gives a flavour of this. It talks about supporting a Boycott only where ‘where trade union members should not put their own jobs at risk by refusing to deal with such products’. This must be the first time that cowardice has been enshrined as a principle! Should South African dockers who blacklisted ships to Israel or Greek workers who embargoed arms shipments first have asked their employer to promise not to dismiss them? If we follow this road there will never be a successful boycott. Indeed there would never have been trade unions either!!
The job of trade unions is to fight the employers and state if necessary not to ask for promises of immunity. It is our strength which guarantees that. What this means is passing resolutions that are never intended to be put into practice. It is mere posturing and hype.
That is why PSC Executive and Bernard Regan have opposed getting the unions to cut links with Histadrut. Cutting links with Histadrut is one of the few things unions can actually do themselves. They have the power to cut those links and in the daysbefore UNISON came into existence, its forerunner NALGO did boycott Histadrut.
The TUC’s foreign policy has historically been outsourced from the Foreign Office and even their staff in some cases were rumoured to be FO secondments.Cutting links with Histadrut would run counter to British foreign policy, itself something they would hesitate long and hard about doing. Instead the TUC has always treated Histadrut like any other trade union, despite the fact that it was a settler union which, from its formation, opposed even the employment of Arabs (‘Jewish Labour’). By refusing to call for a break in links with Histadrut PSC is effectively opposing a Boycott in the trade union arena.
The task is clear. If PSC is to live up to its claim to want to build a mass anti-apartheid organisation in Britain it first must belong to its own members, not a small ex-left sect like Socialist Action.
* Letter to PSC Executive
Dear EC members
We, the undersigned, as members of PSC, would like to raise the following issues that have been of concern to us recently, and we would appreciate a response from you at the next branch forum meeting on12 September. We are sure that in the spirit of openness and transparency, the EC will welcome the opportunity to address these concerns.
Prior to the 2009 AGM, a secret memo was circulated to a selected list of people who had access to voting rights by virtue of their membership of PSC and/or affiliated organizations. The memo asked them to attend the AGM and dictated to them to vote on motions and for a list of candidates to the EC. The memo was headed “This is a personal note – not for circulation”. It stated that:
“This will in my view be an extremely important AGM because of the need to get the focus of the campaign firmly fixed on the events in Gaza and to keep trade unions at the centre of the PSC. There is an opposition within PSC which I firmly believe would take us well away from these objectives.”
The clear implication was that those candidates who were not on the list were doing the exact opposite. Because the memo was secret, the other candidates were therefore not given a chance to refute them. For a full copy of the secret memo which was leaked and put on the internet visit here. Some trade union representatives had three voting cards, and though they had no way of testing the truth of the allegations, their votes carried more weight than those of active members.
How does the EC intend to ensure that unfair methods to influence the outcome of votes will not be used again?
2. Fairness, accountability and equal opportunity in recruitment processes.
The three most recent appointments of office staff have gone to individuals with strong connections to the same, little known, organisation (Socialist Action.) The three staff members who are reputed to be affiliated with this organisation are Sarah Colborne, Denis Fernando and Ruquayya Collector. We are not questioning the commitment or ability of these individuals to make an important contribution to the campaign for Palestine and we recognise that everyone has political beliefs. However, we do not believe it is plausible that a recruitment process incorporating principles of fairness and equal opportunities, and aimed at selecting the best candidate for the job, could have had this result. This is particularly the case when you consider that a job opportunity within a campaign organisation for Palestine would be expected to attract a significant number of candidates.
We are concerned that the interests of one organisation could have a disproportionate influence on PSC actions. Socialist Action members now act as gatekeepers between the membership and central administration. PSC’s reputation as an organization free of any political agenda other than solidarity with the people of Palestine and their campaign for liberation has been jeopardized, preventing it from becoming a mass movement.
Please explain how PSC ensures that staff recruitment conforms to equal opportunities, including an explanation of the advertising, short listing and interviewing process?
Several people have left the PSC office unwillingly in the last few years. We are concerned about the high turnover of staff in PSC over the last few years, which has an inevitable effect on the ability of the office to provide a consistent and adequate service to the membership.
What steps are the EC taking to address this issue?
- Financial management
Members are very concerned about an (un-minuted) statement by the PSC Director at the branch 30th May branch forum that all the money collected during January as a result of the war on Gaza had been spent.
We therefore request an interim statement of accounts, and the budget for the current year, demonstrating how the Executive proposes to ensure PSC’s financial sustainability.
If we have a management / leadership team which is predominantly drawn from the same or similar background, or which holds to one political perspective there is little room for alternative viewpoints to be voiced, or for creative dissent to emerge.Constructive and challenging dialogue is a tremendous engine for imaginative thinking and precludes a blinkered approach; such dialogue is much likely to happen within a highly homogeneous group – where is the stimulating tension going to come from? And where’s the democratic representation of the views of a diverse membership?
** PSC INTERNAL MATTERS
Internally it has been a difficult year for the EC and the staff of PSC who have been subject to a campaign of harassment and in some cases personal abuse by widely published emails and a blog. These actions can only detract from the work of PSC andhelp those who want to see PSC fail in our efforts to build a mass movement. We resisted engaging with the perpetrators, however in August a group of 13 people made unsubstantiated allegations to the EC. Since these were simultaneously distributed widely and the PSC were being subjected to public calumny, after two weeks the EC felt they had to make a response absolutely refuting the allegations. Regrettably two members of the EC resigned as they felt this had been dealt with precipitately.
At a branch forum in Sheffield .. they unanimously called for the two EC members to rescind their resignations. This call was later reiterated by the EC but unfortunately preconditions were demanded to which ther EC could not agree.
The size of the task that PSC has is enormous. We must continue to make solidarity with the Palestinian people our priority and not become embroiled in internal disputes. Differences in PSC should be conducted through the democratic processes that exist. Unity around our objectives, democratically agrred at the AGM, is of paramonunt importance if we are to build on our effectiveness.
The Wikipedia entry states: “Socialist Action is a small Trotskyist group in the United Kingdom. … From the mid-1980s Socialist Action became anentryist organisation, attempting to take over other organisations,with members using code names and not revealing their affiliation.”