The deeply unpleasant Stalinist-nationalist clique organised around the Red London Facebook page is now being widely denounced, following some recent events described below. But some who are now disassociating from it and denouncing it have previously been involved in helping its culture and ideas spread, in some cases quite centrally and actively. Disassociation and denunciation is better than collusion and complicity, but basic political honesty demands some accounting.
Red London is not, or was not, just a clique of nasty individuals with a well-developed Facebook page. It has functioned as one of the engines for a much wider spread of Stalinist, or semi-Stalinist, ideas and methods on the Labour left. It was central to wider networks which now constitute the dominant faction in Young Labour. It and its ideas had significant influence, directly and to a greater degree indirectly, in the Momentum office and hierarchy.
Witness the hundreds of photos, shared all over social media, of numerous prominent people in Momentum and Young Labour doing the finger-up “Vigilance” salute popularised by Red London. (We include a few below.) This cultish symbol is a reference to Stalinist campaigns against Trotskyists and other critical-minded radical leftists during the murderous period of high Stalinism in the 30s and 40s – the injunction to be “Vigilant” against anti-Stalinist socialists was linked to slogans such as “Treat a Trotskyist as you would a fascist”.
Clearly, not everyone who has gone along with such cultish behaviour, often dressed up as “banter”, is actively involved with Red London. As an anonymous page, it is difficult to know for certain who has been at its core. But its memes, hashtags, and ideas have been widely circulated. There has been a remarkable degree of sympathetic tolerance, encouragement and even open endorsement for these thugs – frequently accompanied by emulation – even when they have promoted vicious hard Stalinism and engaged in campaigns of online bullying and harassment.
The fact that the campaign was primarily aimed against Trotskyists – with an adoption in parts of the left of witch-hunting attitudes previously confined to Blairites, growing out of the fight around the abolition of democracy in Momentum – seems to have deadened many people’s moral-political sensibilities.
Even before recent public splits, there seems, insofar as one can tell from the outside, to have been a gradual parting of the ways between the core of Red London and their wider Stalinist-influenced allies. As well as some interpersonal conflicts, this seems to have involved a sense amongst more career-oriented Labour Party and Momentum activists that Red London’s ranting and antics are starting to become an embarrassment. Also in the mix is a genuine political difference over trans rights, on which the core Red London people have a reactionary, transphobic position.
Some on the more “moderate” side of this split now deny they ever had any involvement with Red London, and claim they are being slandered by the suggestion that they ever did. Contrary to some of their wilder claims, there is no indiscriminate campaign of accusing people of “being Red London”, merely a desire by others who have also been the victim of Red London’s harassment and attacks to hold to account those who helped spread Red London’s culture and ideas or versions of them.
The situation in Lewisham, south London, where these divisions have burst out into a messy public conflict, with reams of online denunciation, highlights the reality. People associated with Red London seem to have vandalised a flat, including by daubing transphobic graffiti on the walls, of some other leftists in their social circle, who are involved with one side of a split in Lewisham Momentum. At the centre of the allegations is Dom Cerasoli, a Red London supporter who avidly promotes support for Bashar al-Assad’s regime in Syria, and for Joseph Stalin, online.
According to one account, Cerasoli was complicit in allowing people into the flat to trash it. According to another, he was being unfairly evicted from the flat.
Cerasoli was until recently the Political Education Officer of the officially recognised Lewisham Momentum group. Lewisham Momentum’s AGM in April split, with one group decamping from the venue to the front room of a nearby bar where they held their own meeting and unanimously elected a slate of officers. Some people now denouncing Red London and denying association with it were central to catalysing that split in Momentum, and were involved in the slate. Cerasoli, an open Stalinist and Red London supporter, is the person they wanted educating Momentum members in Lewisham!
Two weeks before the latest row exploded, Red London launched a vicious online attack on the co-secretary of the other side in the Lewisham Momentum split, Sacha Ismail, calling him a “nonce” and urging a campaign against him. Despite their parting of ways from the Red London people, no one on the other side of the Momentum split made any public criticism of that attack or offered any solidarity, beyond a few grudging words elicited after challenges on social media. In fact, a member of their committee publicly “liked” the Red London Facebook post - something they have still not taken action over.
More generally, and way beyond Lewisham, there are significant numbers of people who knew all about Red London but seem to have only just discovered it is a problem – and still have nothing to say about its longer and wider record, for obvious reasons.
It is good more people are now willingly to openly criticise Red London, but the political culture they helped spread in parts of the left must also be confronted and overturned.
The problem was never reducible to the now presumably dwindling number of individuals directly organised by the people at the core of Red London. If some in Labour and Momentum who were previously complicit in spreading that culture, or benefited from it, now wish to disassociate from it, that is to be welcomed; but it is vital for honesty, transparency, and accountability that they take account for and reflect on their own role in helping it take root in the first place.
After Artin Giles' election referenced in the image at the top
Includes Bill Patterson (left) and Sandy Hale (centre). The latter is widely rumoured to still be the central person behind Red London, while the former (who is Co-Chair of the official 'Lewisham Momentum') seems to have fallen out with them
These are among many hundreds of such pictures widely shared all over social media - most of them from 2017 through to mid-2018