By Cathy Nugent
Above: They use “paedo” and “nonce” (a word which has homophobic roots) as general swear words.
On 26 October, the Red London Facebook page, purportedly a site run by Corbyn-supporting socialists, posted a meme indicating that the Clarion magazine and one of its editors, Sacha Ismail, support child abuse. Sacha is a member of Workers’ Liberty, and the parent of a young child.
The claim is ludicrous, reckless, and malicious. It is not the first time that Red London have smeared members of Workers’ Liberty. Who are Red London? What are their politics? What other attacks have they made on us and other socialists?
Red London’s administrators have always been anonymous, but it is clear that they are part of a clique or set of cliques around the Labour Party, Momentum, and the RMT union. Red London say they exist to promote “a confrontational attitude in all socialist struggles”. Their prolific daily content is usually not confrontational, but similar to every other Corbyn fan club site. The bland facade serves as a backdrop for the less frequent but more “edgy” content, including praise of “High Stalinism”.
Red London’s extreme attitude is not only “online”. It has infected “on the ground” political life. The meme smearing Clarion and Sacha appeared when the left in Lewisham Labour was split over candidates in a constituency elections. Sacha is the secretary of the local left caucus Lewisham for Corbyn.
Red London’s Stalinism is much cruder than the Morning Star’s. Red London say the USSR in the 1930s was the best, North Korea is a workers’ paradise, and Enver Hoxha was a great leader. Some take those claims as ironic or joky, but they provide an “extreme” and authoritarian mindset to frame Red London’s targeting of its hate figures.
Red London’s stock-in-trade is unkind and unsophisticated ridiculing of “identity politics” — people whom they caricature as always saying “woke” and “intersectional”; so-called RadLibs; so-called snowflakes and melts. “Goldsmiths” (that is, students from Goldsmiths College) is a stand-in word for all those. Red London are not interested in reasoned critique of identity politics. They are interested in stirring up a hardcore audience, mainly of young white men, to hatred and contempt.
Their stance has sometimes licensed sneering hostility towards oppressed groups and marginalised people (such as sex workers). Red London style themselves as a forum for the expression of an “authentically” working-class identity. This is confused. Class is most importantly a relationship to the means of production and only secondly a cultural identity, and a complex one at that, varying between times and places. Their take on class takes them into dangerous territory.
Red London have tried to relate to Tommy Robinson’s followers as misguided members of “our class”, saying, “we need our own Tommy or Tommies”. In this context Red London have foregrounded their anti-paedophile message by way of a border-line authoritarian “lynch mob” mentality against paedophiles. Socialists oppose child abuse, but we also opposes vigilantism: it drives child abuse underground, works against rehabilitation, and will not keep children safe.
Red London have an obsession with paedophila which predates Robinson’s campaigns. They use “paedo” and “nonce”(a word which has homophobic roots) as general swear words. They have used it to smear Trotskyists in general (who along with anarchists are their next favourite hate figures) and Workers’ Liberty in particular.
Towards the end of 2016, Red London began to say that Workers’ Liberty supports paedophilia and/or child abuse (the group never makes any distinctions). They have always ignored our clear and considered statements on these issues.
They, and an anonymous blog which is associated with the group, have based themselves on four snippets out of hundreds and thousands of texts that our political tendency has published over fifty years. Those snippets were “read” by way of ripping them out of context.
One is an exchange of letters dating back to 1981, one of which opposes censorship laws and another which calls for a discussion around the age of consent. Both texts are impossible to understand without knowing something about the 1980s left and the topic under discussion. Another snippet is a postscript to a letter opposing “Megan’s Law” (making the sex offenders register public) on the grounds that it would encourage counter-productive vigilantism. That meaning is lost in Red London’s presentation.
The fourth is from an article by Gerry Byrne published in 2003. The basic position here is very clear: “Any sexual relationship between an adult and a child is necessarily exploitative, even if there is no physical coercion involved … ‘consent’ is meaningless in the structurally unequal relationship of adult to child”. That position is never acknowledged by Red London.
Our actual record is of consistent support for an age of consent and often-expressed strong views on tackling child abuse. For example, on the sexual exploitation of children in Rotherham: “The bottom line here is that everywhere, a minority of abusive men, often involved in criminal gangs, will look for vulnerable children to prey on. If the system does not believe children who report abuse, regards children who are sexually active as ‘sluts’, and does not trust trained workers or give them the resources they need, it will continue to fail vulnerable children.”
In Red London’s way of using snippets to create “fake news” and to whip up “death to nonces” fever, there is little difference between them and the alt-right. The politics are not the same but the method is: misinformation, angry identity claims, and calls to ditch empathy all drive out reasoned discussion.
In early 2018, Red London’s smears became entangled with a report made online of an historic sexual assault in the AWL, where the victim was under 18 and over the current age of consent. The case had not been reported to the relevant AWL bodies at the time (2005). We investigated. We immediately stated that individually and collectively we had not provided the proper support — that is facilitated access to professional help, as part of a safeguarding duty to that young person.
Red London’s smears helped only to exploit and instrumentalise the case; young AWL members and some allies were called “nonces” at a February 2018 London Young Labour. The atmosphere made it impossible to get a proper discussion on the serious issues.
The recklessness, the authoritarianism, and fake scandals of Red London are geared to stoke up sectarian division on left. Those who value words, meaning, and dialogue should challenge Red London.
• More on how Red London creates fake news
• Our Working Group report on the 2005 case
- This article also appears (under the heading Fake news inside the left) in the present issue of Solidarity