‘Red London’: fake-news peddling Stalinist liars and poseurs

This article also appears in the present issue of the AWL’s paper Solidarity:

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Red London

We made 25k likes on Stalin’s birthday 🎁🎉🍾

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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.

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6 thoughts on “‘Red London’: fake-news peddling Stalinist liars and poseurs

  1. There’s always been something enigmatic in Jack Straws historic links with the old CP. I heard of juvenile schoolday contacts with members of the South Essex District of the Party when he lived in a small village in the county, and this linkage was carried on in Leeds where he was a student politician. I suspect it wasn’t just casual either. In the 1960’s, a mere fresher student at Leeds Uni would have to have some heft to be familiar with Bert Ramelson, who was as active nationally as he was in his Yorkshire District base.

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  2. Just a brief comment although this is probably taking us off the track of this particular discussion. Bert Ramelson’s name is bandied about, still, as if he was some all powerful Titan, able to summon up the ranks of the working class to shift heaven and earth. The CP did have a powerful base in Yorkshire (although it was mainly South Yorkshire and particularly in engineering). They controlled the AUEW District lock stock and barrel but did nothing with it. District secretary George Caborn (father of former MP Richard) ruled the roost from his rather imposing office in Sheffield (adorned with a statue/relief of Bulgarian arch-Stalinist Georgi Dimitrov) while his hit-men Derek Simpson and Albert ‘Lavrenti’ Knight (quite possibly the most repulsive man I have ever encountered in my life) ran around doing his dirty work. Yet when the Thatcher assault on the unions started up the whole edifice collapsed like a pack of cards. The strongest regional section of the AUEW, with the largest membership did nothing except bleat on about how we needed to return to collective bargaining. One of Ramelson’s proteges was a certain Frank Watters who was an ‘adviser’ to Scargill in 1984-5. This man was a total idiot and if Scargill did actually take his advice seriously then it’s no wonder we lost the strike. A question to David – I always thought Jack Straw was at Sheffield University where he was President of the Students Union or am I getting him mixed up with someone else?

    Question : Which Labour MP accepted a £50,000 bribe to use his influence to help a ficticious Chinese Company gain access to Westminster?

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    1. The strike was lost because of Scargill and the Marxist elites who would not ballot the membersbip. The miners went into a strike without unity.

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  3. Well anyone prepared to view middle eastern Jews as human beings gets accused of being “in the pay of the Israeli state” so I would take that as a compliment. The “antisemitism” accusation seems oddly schizophrenic, particularly coming from Stalinists…
    I say they’re a laughable irrelevance, though one does have to wonder what creates the sort of environment in which these people can flourish

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  4. A comrade writes:

    An absolutely thermonuclear take from Red London today – you can be an English nationalism and an anti-imperialist socialist at the same time because it was Britain, not England, that did all the bad things in history:

    ” Every year on St George’s Day we post something about the English radical tradition; every year it has been a guest post – this years was even in quotation marks as we didn’t fully agree with the OP’s stance on Cromwell. Every year our point is the same: an English identity can be a great thing if it is based on the amazing history of England’s working class and socialist movements. There is always some lively debate, but this year sections of the left used the occasion to reveal how far from the masses they have strayed, to the point that they had adopted reactionary positions closer to the Far Right than to socialism.

    Pages and individuals shared the post saying it was apologism for British imperialism. But not only was the post not about imperialism – indeed, it was mostly about people who had fought against it – but it was about England, not Britain. For those overseas and the slow learners among you: there are many nations within the UK. England is the historically dominant one, but when it was subjugating other nations it always did it under the name ‘BRITAIN’. Hence ‘the British Empire’. Hence the slogan ‘Brits out’.

    So to talk about Englishness is not to reference the Empire, just as Scottishness does not – and Scotland also participated in the Empire. When you talk about the Empire and the politics of that Empire, racism and colonialism, you use the term Britain. Not Scotland, Wales, Ireland, Cornwall, or England. To refer to England as Britain, is to deny the existence of all those different nations: this is the prject of the Far Right. To refer to England as the British Empire is try and associate every day English culture and values with a reactionary, horrific, racist entity: this is also the project of the Far Right.

    The worst was yet to come however, when ‘English’ was linked to ‘white’. One page suggested we change our name from Red London to White London. Others said St George’s day was ‘a racist festival’. This is a very poor show. To suggest that England can only mean white people is to agree with the fascists and Nazis. Yes: in your attempts to outdo yourselves in how much you ‘hate patriotism and white supremacy’ you actually agreed with literal British Nazis that England can only mean, and be, white.

    The left is about progressive change, not taking radical stances to impress yourself and your online friends. By all means look for people to mock who are genuinely white supremacist, apologists for imperialism, and racist: it can be very helpful to understand the right ideas by contrasting with the wrong ideas. But the passion with which some of you comb through posts from the left for false transgressions is shamefully a fraction of the energy you put into fighting legitimate enemies.

    By the way, the picture that upset so many of you, of a man holding the red and flag and the St George’s flag in each hand, was taken at a specifically anti-racist, anti-fascist St George’s day event, by the political organisation 0161 Community. Remember than not even a million online misreadings, distortions, falsifications, shitfits, tantrums, and denunciations will compete with activities of socialist and progressive activists in the real world. We write for them, not you.

    We will continue to embrace our radical history, the history of the Suffragettes, the Chartists, and the abolitionists, the history of the world’s oldest working class and workers’ movement. We will continue to speak in the terms and language of our surroundings, in reverence of this history, and to deny the reactionaries and Far Right any chance to use the identities people care for against each other.

    Those, like a miserable Trotskyist group, that suggested this was a form of identity politics, are correct: we have been open from the start about our intention to contribute to the building of a socialist identity, one that unites, one that overcomes division rather than embracing it – one that accepts the people’s love for their surroundings, be it a city or a nation, as evidence that we have a strong foundation on which to build solidarity upon. A left that is truly accessible.”

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