Parables for Socialists 9
How can you tell when a political purge has turned into a witchhunt, and the witch-hunt has taken on a momentum of its own?
That was easy back in the days when witches were people accused of doing evil things with the Devil and on the Devil's behalf, as distinct from the Labour Party now where people are hunted for politics which the men in suits who run the party consider diabolical.
The witchfinders would seek out witches, make accusations, have people immersed in water to see if the Devil came and saved them. (If they drowned, that proved that they were innocent of all devilish protection). Maybe some witches would be condemned to be burned or hanged. Whisperings and accusations would become common.
The Devil and his agents could be anywhere, and were known to be everywhere. An appearance of being the very opposite of what people thought the Devil was, was itself cause for suspicion.
People whom you did not like, or with whom you were in conflict, were especially likely to arouse your suspicion. Apparently innocent acts had to be looked at afresh with that fearful knowledge uppermost in the mind.
Wasn't that old woman seen near a cow that later died unexpectedly? There you are! The hysteria and fear would build up and up.
And then would come the transformation. People would get up in church and level fantastic accusations of lewd and malevolent dealings with the Devil, of having gone for midnight rides on the Devil's spikey tail, of having cast diabolical spells on people who had recently died — at whom? At themselves!
Women and men, driven out of their wits by fear and hysteria, and terrorised into identifying completely with their witch-hunting oppressors, would get up and confess — in paroxysms of exhibitionism and attention-seeking — to fantastic deeds done for the greater glory of Satan. Anyone who has seen or read Arthur Miller's The Crucible, a play about the 17th century witch-hunts which took place in Salem Massachusetts, wili remember the dementedly confessing young women.
That stage ot fantaseic self-accusation is the real take-off point for a full-blown witch-hunt.
Clare Short's performance in Brighton during Labour Party conference (October 1991) strongly suggests that this stage has now been reached in the Labour Party.
Ms Short MP got up in church in Brighton — that is, at the "Tribune" fringe meeting — and denounced herself and others. This is what she said, according to Edward Pearce in the Guardian:
"If Mrs Thatcher became a long-term prime minister when she should have been a short-term leader of the opposition, that was the fault of 'us the left', of factions, quarrels and attacks on the leadership". Tribune reported Clare Short as follows: "Some people say the Left are the people who are against the leadership. That's not good enough, comrades.
"We have to use the democracy of our party to lead it where we want it to go. We should be having a vibrant discussion. Where is it?
"The Trotskyist entrist project damaged the Left. It was an enormously painful journey for some of us to deal with it. But Walton did it."
She may also have slipped some rat poison in Labour Party Leader Neil Kinnock's tea at a meeting of the Party's National Executive Committee. This and other revelations can be expected the next time Ms Short has an overconvivial lunch with some Edward Pearce or other.
Now in fact this poor misguided, confused woman has, on the whole, led a pretty blameless political life.
Her left credentials amount to what, exactly? Concern with women's rights? But though her opposition to naked women in newspapers may have stung the Sun into calling her Crazy Clare, or something like that, her politics here are strictly in line with her good Catholic upbringing.
What else has Clare Short been "left" on? Ireland' Well, yes, but even on that she has been no red Republican enrage.
True, on certain platforms and at certain meetings Short does not differentiate from an identikit "left" troops-out view. But Robert Maxwell's "Daily Mirror" has the same policy on Ireland! And for "considered" and formal occasions Clare Short presents herself as against a precipitate British withdrawal "without a political settlement".
Sometimes she sounds a bit like Socialist Organiser — except that for Short this is not something she tries to educate the left about so that it can be more effective against the establishment; it is her "moderate" face for that establishment.
On not a great deal else can Clare Short base any confession to having been left-wing. She has never been a prominent organiser of the left. I don't think she has ever joined any "faction" less respectable than the Tribune Group of MPs.
When this woman goes around denouncing herself for her left-wing past, then the Labour Party really is in the grip of witch-hunt hysteria!
Clare Short may even have been reduced to this state by fear, for she is being hounded in her constituency by the ultra right wing led Electrician's Union (the EEPU) who are trying to deselect her. In some areas of today's Labour Party, even Clare Short is "too left wing".
Of course this classic demented-old-lady performance of Short's would be impossible without the credulous, scared, confused audience provided for her by the Tribune meeting. The reports I have read do not say whether or not others at that meeting, following Short's self-denunciation, got up and denounced themselves, or spoke in tongues before rolling on the floor and frothing at the mouth.
There is now a whole culture in the Labour Party which might be called "witch-hunt left". Tribune editorials express this viewpoint. Tribune is in favour of driving Militant out of the Labour Party. With impeccable schoolbook logic — and on one level, irrefutably — Tribune says that Militant cannot stand against Labour and be in the Party. With great democratic rectitude it insists that the MPs Nellist and Fields should get no special treatment — and it seems quite incapable of putting these things in the context,in an overview, of what is going on in the Labour Party now.
They seem incapable, too, of grasping the imperious authoritarian logic that will work itself through in the sort of one-faction Labour Party they are now, in fact, supporting. Clare Short may denounce the left and her own half-imaginary past: but what if the EETPU is not placated?
What happens if, under a new Labour government, Tribune finds something intolerable and protests or, heaven forbid, organises against it? Some Clare Short — or perhaps this Clare Short — will denounce them for factionalism and for their "contempt for Labour Party democracy", which is increasingly defined as rule by an authoritarian machine in the name of a passive and media manipulated "majority".
Short's ridiculous peformance should alarm all those in Labour's "centre left" who are concerned for the well-being of the Labour Party, and for its spiritual and mental health.
They should look to themselves, and to the witchhunting culture they have allowed to grow up in the former left of the Labour Party. That is where Clare Short is coming from (and also, going from!)
Defeats — most of them avoidable defeats — have produced the present mood on the Labour left, in which nothing matters but getting the Tories out. This left quietly allows Kinnockites like Clare Short to blame the defeats on those who attempted to make Labour a fitting instrument for working-class struggle, when the blame lies squarely with the right wing and with former left-wingers like Kinnock who have less fight in them, and less anti-Tory fire in their minds and in their bellies than even the Liberal leader, Paddy Ashdown, has.
The serious left will treat the Shorts and the other Tribunite witch-hunters with the contempt they deserve. When they have exhausted their usefulness so too, probably, will the right.
When Clare Short was a witch hunter
By John O'Mahony, Socialist Organiser 503, October 18, 1991
*[Ex Overseas Development Minister Clare Short was one of those Old Labour Party semi-leftists who helped Blair, Brown and the trade union leaders strangle the Old Labour Party and set up "New Labour". For six years as an uncomplaining member of Blair's government, she never protested against the government's preservation of the Tory anti-union laws, or anything else. At first she supported the invasion of Iraq, but then, after the event, changed her mind and resigned from the Blair Government.
Socialist Organiser (the predecessor of Solidarity) was banned by the Labour Party in 1990 with Short's active support.
This Socialist Organiser article marked an important stage in the degeneration of the Labour left in the early 1990s.]