Two Plus Two

“Freedom is the freedom to say two plus two make four. If that is granted all else follows”. Winston Smith in Orwell’s ‘1984’ was hardly an intellectual and that is the salient point. You do not have to be an intellectual or to be ‘clever’ to understand that two plus two makes four, or to follow the steps of a simple argument.

Saying that policies that have a discriminatory impact on a ethnically distinct section of a state’s population are racist should not be problematic, yet speaking to Robert Peston at a JLM hosted hustings all (then) four Labour leadership candidates agreed that:

1. To describe Israeli policies that have a ‘discriminatory impact’ as ‘racist’ is antisemitic.

2. It was a disgrace for Corbyn to suggest that it is not antisemetic to describe discriminatory Israeli policies as racist.

All four candidates were agreeing to a proposition that is clearly contrary to common sense. And this is far from being the only example of the Labour leadership taking positions so contrary to common sense and reason that they are effectively asking their supporters to deny that two plus two makes four. They are asking their supporters to deny their own ability to think.

Paulo Freire in ‘Pedagogy of the Oppressed’ (a highly recommended read) writes: “it is necessary to trust in the oppressed and in their ability to reason. Whoever lacks this trust will fail to initiate (or will abandon) dialogue, reflection, and communication, and will fall into using slogans, communiques, monologues, and instructions. Superficial conversions to the cause of liberation carry this danger”

Labour’s leadership has not only failed to initiate, and has not only abandoned, dialogue, reflection and communication; it has created an environment that is actively hostile to dialogue, reflection and communication.

Recently a petition was circulated that read:

“Sign the petition to suspend the Labour party NEC elections”We the undersigned are extremely concerned at the recent suspensions of candidates for the positions of NEC CLP representatives and NEC BAME representatives.”We are concerned that all of the suspended candidates are hard working, anti racist, socialists.”We believe the Labour Party is creating a hostile environment for hard working members, by taking these actions against those who have secured nominations from several CLPs. People who are popular amongst the grassroots membership. We should have an opportunity to elect candidates from a wide ranging list. We therefore demand that the NEC elections are postponed until all investigations into suspended candidates are complete. Allowing natural justice to take place and allowing candidates the opportunity to be reinstated and placed back on the list of candidates.”

I responded:

“I fear that I cannot sign this because having been expelled and insulted with the slur of being antisemitic I am no longer a member of the Labour Party which has for some time been a hostile environment for free and rational discourse. I suggest that you give some consideration to the nature of the ‘hostile environment’ to which you refer and I refer LP members to to an insight that they may have forgotten.

“If you don’t value principles that protect all people you will not be able to call on those principles to protect people that you value.”

The first and foundational freedom is freedom of thought and consequently freedom of discourse. The freedom to think and the freedom to discuss are intimately tied together.

“The limits of my language are the limits of my world” noted the philosopher Wittengenstein. “Dialogue is thus an existential necessity” as Freire puts it. We need to broaden our discourse rather than restrict it.

Many of us will have entered the Labour Party in 2015 for reasons that were well put by one letter writer to the Guardian:

“Only by supporting his [Corbyn’s] inclusion will Labour be given an opportunity to focus on securing the support and loyalty of those sections of the population which, as recent polling analysis shows, all three parties ignored in the recent election – crucially, 18- to 24-year-olds, D and E class individuals, mortgaged homebuyers, and social and private renters – all of whom have lost out badly during the past five years and who will continue to do so under the new all-Tory government. Further, it will give voice to a wide range of opinion in the party, ignored in the recent election, which opposes past and future western war-waging and supports the furtherance of human rights throughout the world.”In doing so it will provide a chance for the party to return to its core values of fairness, equal opportunity and human dignity for all, rather than remaining obsessed with sloganeering attempts (“aspiration”, “wealth creators”) to salami-slice smaller and smaller differences between the parties and make them sound significant.”

Gillian Dalley Sun 14 Jun 2015

It is difficult to avoid the impression that the Labour Party in 2020 is as an institution is more concerned with power, pull, position and propaganda than with principle or people. However I use the word ‘impression’ rather than ‘conclusion’ deliberately because I know that there are people within the party who are working in the service of both principle and people and that they have a difficult fight.

I am, therefore, not urging or even suggesting that anyone leaves the party. I do suggest and urge however that, whether in or out of the party, we remain in and build a community and communities of truly free dialogue. I urge that we persist in questioning, examining and debating everything and persist in supporting each other to do the same.

‘If there is hope,’ he had written in the diary, ‘it lies in the proles.’