This article also appears in the present issue of the AWL’s paper Solidarity:
We made 25k likes on Stalin’s birthday 🎁🎉🍾
Red London is a Stalinist meme Facebook page and Twitter account which spreads fake news about Trotskyists and others on the left whom they don’t like.
Founded some time in 2015 Red London is a clique of individuals in Labour and Momentum, including some involved in the hostile takeover of Lewisham Momentum last month. The people who organise around Red London have a constellation of social media outlets for their bile, platforms which selectively and strategically share content, including Red London, London Young Left (formerly the voice of London Momentum Youth and Students before the group was shut down by Jon Lansman for its bullying behaviour), and the blog Check Their Minutes, dedicated to spreading lies about Workers’ Liberty and bullying people who work with us.
They are, for now, a small band, but if they are not challenged their toxic politics will grow. This briefing is to inform the left about their methods and politics.
Red London admins hide behind their online anonymity. Nonetheless it is an open secret that the content is produced and heavily shared by a rag-tag bunch of former Trotskyists and anarchists, some of whom are mostly interested in climbing their way through the ranks of the trade union and Labour Party bureaucracy.
On one level Red London has simply captured and spread a social-media-generated market in Stalinist iconography.
On another they feed on the political fashion for “fake news” — wild and slanderous attacks on political opponents. On another level they often promote reactionary social conservatism (see below). They are behind the one fingered #vigilance salute beloved of many young Momentum members, who raise it as an identification with an “in group” and to signal support for clearing out “Trotskyists” from the movement.
But the actual political line of Red London is not easy to pin down. They have a hatred of “liberals”, “Trots”, and “identity politics” without ever really defining what these things are. In practice the politics they most often promote are those of the Communist Party of Britain and its mouthpiece the Morning Star, a paper which in fact often reflects established labour movement orthodoxy.
Red London’s special technique is to promote that orthodoxy as an insurgent force through getting well-produced “edgy” content widely-shared. Following the line of Labour’s right, Red London says Trotskyism, (and the AWL in particular) have been allowed to run rampant in the labour movement for too long. They also denounce the “cranks” and “wreckers” anyone who dares to criticise anything about Labour’s leadership.
In part, this paranoia is driven by the right’s witch-hunt, but the singling out of “Trot sects” for expulsion has now spread widely on the left, though this purge mentality would have been anathema to Labour leftists until very recently.
Red London has been helped to gain influence by the involvement of some of its admins in the Kurdish solidarity movement.
Ironically, Plan C, another political current heavily active in the Kurdish movement, is regularly attacked by these left fake newsers. Sectarian divisions aside, Red London behave like conspiracy theorists everywhere. They vacillate wildly between the belief that Trots are everywhere and that we are utterly irrelevant. The overall effect is to whip up hostility to alternative ideas, debate and discussion.
In its online methods Red London acts much like the alt-lite does, promoting views in ways that are confrontational and superficially appear transgressive or shocking. They push hard-Stalinist politics, but because they do it via a meme page it can be characterised as “just a bit of a joke”. And jokes are there to push boundaries, right? Anyone who dares challenges RL’s content is heaped with abuse, can be told to get a sense of humour, or finds their own comments posted or twisted and then posted on the page as a meme.
In a sympathetic blog piece which mentions Red London, Robert Maisey backs up this point. He talks about how the alt-lite are able to use Pepe, a green cartoon frog, to make deadly serious political points. Memes are jokes, but not all jokes are just jokes.
As the comedian Stewart Lee routine goes, “just a joke, like on Top Gear”. Maisey, defending Red London points out that, “Arguing with Pepe makes you look both sanctimonious and idiotic in equal measure.”
But as Maisey goes onto say about Pepe, “it became increasingly clear that Pepe was clearing the ground for a much deeper, more radical politics. Whether or not the original milieu of 4chan users who incubated the culture of the alt-right ever intended it to develop in the way that it did is still very much up for debate, if such a disparate, nihilistic community could ever have a unified set of intentions at all”.
Red London is not the vehicle for a more radical politics but it is certainly a vehicle for a certain kind of nihilism for people who have no moral boundaries. More regularly it is a vehicle for advocating a conservative labour movement, one which does not engage in debate or self-criticism, but is stuck in a rut of tired routinism, deference to bureaucracy and sustaining positions for cliques and careerists.
It reflects an outlook shared by the Stalinist left and the Blairite right. It was Jack Straw who described the linkage in two infamous letters to the Independent in 2004 while Home Secretary in Blair’s government. “Whatever other frailties I may have (many), I have been consistent in my opposition to Trotskyism and the false consciousness it engenders. (I was first taught to spot a Trot at 50 yards in 1965 by Mr Bert Ramelson, Yorkshire industrial organiser of the Communist Party.)” He goes onto say, “Quiz question: Name a successful Trotskyist government (or revolution, for that matter).”
Almost verbatim Straw’s words have been repeated by Red London. Jack Straw’s move from Stalinist to Blairite apparatchik was not that difficult, because many of the methods are the same — shutting off of debate, getting a job in the bureaucracy and witch hunting Trotskyists.
Some of RL’s most loyal fellow travellers can be found in the transport workers’ union, the RMT. Where it appears, it provides a case study for the right-wing/Stalinist culture.
The worst of RMT political culture reflects a social conservatism, appearing as a supposed rejection of identity politics. This goes alongside a macho culture that promotes ignorance about social oppression as a virtue.
Red London produces content, apparently without irony, which promotes a form of identity politics! The identity they laud is that of an entirely fictitious working-class person who is white, male, a manual worker with lots of swagger. This worker has no time for “namby-pamby” identity politics, presented as the preserve of students and middle-class rad-libs (radical liberals).
For the Red Londoner identity politics is not wrong because it may reject class struggle politics, but because it cares about other oppressions. To do that is a middle-class affectation. LGBT politics, feminism, a critical attitude to the state machinery including crime and punishment, are all things that should be ignored, erased or regarded as anathema in the name of “normal people” or the “silent majority”. (Spot the similarities between this worldview and that of e.g. UKIP.)
That misogyny is a core idea can be seen from the way they championed the Zhenotdel, the Soviet Communist Party’s Women’s Department, in its high Stalinist phase when it did such things as ban abortion. Or this #reditorial claiming that the Soviet ideal for women was progressive, that is, “…women were shown as broad shouldered, wide hipped [all the better for bearing children], and powerfully muscular. Looking exactly as socialism expected them to: like comrades who toiled in the factories and fields side by side with men! In overalls, hair bobbed, or in uniform with a rifle in their hands.”
The cultural effect of the internet is an issue here that we need to think about.
Red London’s methods come straight from the 1930s but are now harnessed to the way the internet works; as Martin Thomas noted in Solidarity 464, “True stories rarely [reach] more than 1000 people through retweeting; the top 1% of false-news tweet-cascades [get] to 10,000 or more.”
Internet methods (anonymity, a lack of requirement to provide evidence) work well with “behind the scenes” methods. In the run-up to the Lewisham Momentum meeting where committee elections were due to be contested (see bit.ly/2K5Cf5h) we were subjected to a whispering campaign which included being accused, ludicrously, of being in the pay of the Israeli state.
The content of the particular campaign against the AWL and the people we work with is as bad as it can be. One Lewisham Labour activist tweeted about the AWL: “[they are] an antisemitic, rape-apologist, paedophilia-supporting, islamophobic, and transphobic cult of current and expelled ex-Labour members.” Such baseless labelling reflects a lack of morals, because it has real world consequences for AWL supporters, especially those of us who are parents, grandparents, social workers, health workers, teachers and community workers.
That there is an appetite for lies and slander reflects the world we live in, but it has no place in the labour movement and on the left. Right now Red London are able to hide in the shadows, because they are protected by the indifference of people in the Labour Party who know what their game. We need to clean up the left stand up to the bullying culture that defines Red London.
Fundamentally, a left that is able to debate and discuss differences is the only antidote to the nihilism and poison of Red London.