Under false colours

Jon Lansman’s departure and the advent of a new regime held out the promise of radical change. Clive Dean tells the sorry tale of bureaucratic control, missed opportunities and political cynicism

The process of ‘refounding Momentum’ that began with the departure of founder/chair/owner Jon Lansman has recently concluded with a raft of 17 organisational changes designed to ‘restore decision-making’ to members.[1]

However, these changes do not amount to rolling back the constitution imposed on the organisation in 2017 following Lansman’s coup. In particular there will be no representative democracy based on local groups, regions and delegate conferences. The changes leave in place the atomised online voting process for members’ involvement, where click-based choices provide no opportunity for real participation in meaningful debates.

Momentum emerged in 2015 from Jeremy Corbyn’s successful leadership campaign. By 2016, when I joined, there was talk of 20,000 members organised in local groups all over the country. In my local group, meetings attracted 20-30 people – both members and some frightened political opponents. We held policy debates and organised left slates for elections within the Constituency Labour Party. Later that year I attended a regional meeting of Momentum, where delegates from a dozen active local groups exchanged experiences and established comradely connections for future campaigns. Like many regions we used the Loomio platform to collaborate and develop coordinated interventions.

There was an air of confidence within the Labour left at that time. Preparations were well in hand for the first Momentum delegate conference and leadership elections in early 2017. Then on October 28 2016 Jon Lansman staged his coup, using the steering committee to cancel a meeting of the body it was subordinate to, the executive committee.[2]

With the full support of Jeremy Corbyn and others in the Socialist Campaign Group of MPs he went on to cancel all the preparations for the conference and then introduced a new constitution, abolishing the regions and downgrading the role of local groups. Lansman used a members’ survey to claim endorsement for his new constitution, ensuring he kept control of his private property. Naturally, the dynamism and enthusiasm of Momentum quickly drained away, along with the members and the local groups.

Momentum became just another lifeless campaign, with all decisions taken at the top, and, despite the veneer of digital democracy, a membership reduced to the role of canvassing fodder. The oh-so-close general election result in 2017 obscured the decline, but with the 2019 election disaster, followed by Sir Keir’s victory as Labour’s leader, Momentum needed a serious overhaul.

Forward

In May 2020 Lansman announced his departure and the overhaul began. Things had got so bad that the rest of the existing leadership decided a new image was required. Their slate for the June 2020 elections to the national coordinating group (NCG – Momentum’s leading committee) adopted the brand, ‘Momentum Renewal’, and promised changes. But instead the fresher faces on the new ‘Forward Momentum’ slate won all 20 seats in the members’ ballot.[3] The old guard had to make do with the remaining 14 NGC seats, elected or appointed by other routes.

The Forward Momentum pitch picked up on some of the grievances within the organisation:

Too many decisions have been made in back rooms, unwanted candidates have been imposed on local groups, and bold socialist strategy has been abandoned, often for no strategy at all. Momentum is failing because of this. Members have left in droves and trust in the organisation is at an all-time low. We are standing to change this.[4]

The process of meetings and consultations seemed to drag on for ages, but by May this year the refounding proposals were ready to be voted on by the membership – online, of course. Yes, there were 17 subjects where a choice was required, sometimes with three or four options, and very brief technical ‘supporting arguments’ to clarify the wording. But, having gone through each vote, and selecting the most radical in terms of member participation, you were left at the end with the distinct feeling that nothing fundamental would come of it all, that really it was just about tinkering with the details.

To illustrate, the topic of the first vote was ‘A Momentum convention’. This was the nearest we would be offered to a sovereign annual national delegate conference. There were four options here:

  1. A convention of all members every two years to debate and vote on campaigning priorities;
  2. As 1, but with delegates rather than all members;
  3. An online convention of all members, but with voting deferred until later to allow offline members to participate;
  4. No convention – existing routes to influence Momentum policy would remain.

The result for this vote was a win for option 1, with 41% support. We were not told how many members voted for it, or how much support the other options received.

Briefly, other decisions included:

  • Allowing members to decide who Momentum endorses in leader/deputy leader elections (backing Angela Rayner rather than Richard Burgon for deputy leader did not go down well).
  • The re-introduction of the regional level of organisation – though this is very much for ‘coordinating’ and ‘helping’ rather than decision-making.
  • Providing a formal framework for Momentum local groups, including many requirements and standards they have to meet – thus providing a convenient stick to use against troublesome opposition: “Local Momentum groups that do not meet these standards will be transitioned to ‘Groups in recess’”!
  • Momentum endorsement of candidates in selection processes to be decided by local groups. This seems obvious but caused a few rows during the Lansman era.
  • Also included are some requirements for MP/councillor accountability – absolutely a good idea, but hard to enforce, I think.
  • Single transferable vote rather than ‘first past the post’ in NCG elections, which ironically should prevent a repeat of the 2020 result referred to above!
  • Finally an attempt to ensure that all members are nominally in a group, even when they are miles from a functioning local organisation.

Here the supporting arguments were revealing. We learnt that “Only a very small percentage of Momentum members are currently organised in local groups”; and “Very few Momentum members fall in the catchment area for a local Momentum group (approximately less than five percent)”. My logical deduction from these two statements is that Momentum is now a collection of dispersed individuals rather than an organised political force.

Today

On June 13 Momentum will open nominations for this year’s NCG elections, with voting beginning on June 28. So far two slates are known to be standing: last time’s winners are now branded as ‘Your Momentum’, and they are being challenged by ‘Momentum Organisers’. Hopefully we will be able to report on some real political differences during the campaign.

The turnout in 2020 was 8,580. Given that the last two years have been dominated by Starmer’s reign of terror against the Labour left, we should expect a much smaller involvement this time. Indeed many groups that share Momentum’s terrain are struggling to survive. Momentum’s insistence on Labour Party membership will not help here either, given the large number of activists who have either been expelled or hounded out of the party, with hardly a whimper of protest from Momentum.

Where Momentum is still having an impact is in its promotion of The World Transformed – the major Labour left fringe umbrella that accompanies the annual party conference. Last year at Brighton it hosted 120 events, and it is now gearing up for Liverpool in September this year. Momentum also provides training courses for its membership, to enable them to function better as organisers within the milieu of protest politics, and to oil the career paths of would-be councillors and MPs (though maybe having Momentum on your CV could be an impediment just now!). In this educational activity Momentum is partnered (organisationally and financially) by the Berlin-based Rosa Luxemburg Foundation. Indeed Deborah Hermanns, who was elected to the NCG in 2020, is listed as an employee at the London office of the RLF.

The RLF functions as a vehicle for the German Left Party (Die Linke) to receive millions of euros from the German state. With this funding it promotes political research and education activities around the world – it has offices in over 20 countries. The link between Momentum and the RLF is a cosy fit politically – left reformism with a radical edge of anti-racism, feminism, pacifism and climate justice, so Momentum is a fortunate beneficiary here.

However, for genuine Marxists such a relationship would be problematic. First, we pride ourselves on our financial and political independence. In our movement there are too many examples of revolutionary politics being abandoned by parties which became dependent on direct or indirect government funding, whatever the government. Second, the legacy of Rosa Luxemburg projected by the RLF – ‘democratic socialism’, coupled with identity politics – is in complete contrast to the real Rosa Luxemburg: a communist revolutionary who fought against opportunism in the German Social Democratic Party, and an ally of Lenin who was committed to spreading the Bolshevik revolution beyond Russia to the heart of European capitalism.

Dare I suggest a session on ‘Rosa Luxembourg, the party and proletarian revolution’ for this year’s The World Transformed?

[1]. labourlist.org/2022/05/momentum-unveils-democratic-changes-passed-in-refounding-process.

[2]. See ‘Sole director wants to dispense with representative democracy’ Weekly Worker November 3 2016: weeklyworker.co.uk/worker/1129/sole-director-wants-to-dispense-with-representativ.

[3]. labourlist.org/2020/07/victory-for-forward-momentum-candidates-as-lansman-steps-down.

[4]. labourlist.org/2020/06/forward-momentum-our-bold-vision-for-change-a-plan-to-rebuild-momentum.

Don’t mention Jeremy

The NEC is now dominated by the right and arrogantly rides roughshod over rules not to its liking. Clive Dean ridicules the debilitating illusions of the Campaign for Labour Party Democracy

On May 16 the Labour Party selected Simon Lightwood as candidate for the forthcoming Wakefield by-election, caused by the resignation of disgraced Tory MP, Imran Khan.

However, just before the vote between the two shortlisted Starmerite hopefuls, the 16-strong Constituency Labour Party executive resigned en masse and led a walkout from the selection meeting. This was in protest at the way the process had been rigged to exclude any meaningful involvement of local members, contrary to party rules.

A rule change was passed at the Labour conference last September that requires a majority of local representatives on the panel selecting the shortlist for a parliamentary by-election. However, as in the three previous by-elections, this rule has been ignored by the party’s national executive committee, with just a single local voice allowed on the panel of five.[1]

You might think this arrogant disregard for the rules by the NEC would deter those claiming to be on the party’s ‘left’ from placing their hopes in further tinkering rule changes, but far from it. A recent email to members of the Campaign for Labour Party Democracy (entitled ‘Justice for Jeremy – should be the priority at annual conference!’) is urging its members to promote a rule change through their CLPs. This particular change is intended to allow Jeremy Corbyn to stand as an official Labour candidate in the next general election, even though he has been suspended from the Parliamentary Labour Party precisely to prevent him from standing.

To achieve this trick requires some legalese in wording. The rule being changed currently begins: “If a CLP is represented in parliament by a member of the PLP …”; and is followed by sub-clauses detailing the processes for trigger ballots and reselection. The proposed new wording reads:

If a CLP is represented in parliament by either a member of the PLP or by a member of the Labour Party who has not had their membership rights to stand in internal selections to represent the party as a publicly elected representative suspended under the provisions of chapters 1, 2 or 6 of this rule book …

… then a further sub-clause is added to nullify any selection rushed through before this year’s conference in an effort to beat the rule change. The whole thing is a blatant contrivance to allow Jeremy Corbyn to keep his Islington North seat despite the machinations of Starmer and the PLP. After all, though he remains suspended from the PLP, he was reinstated as a Labour Party member in November 2020 after a 19-day suspension. But this rule change has a novel extra hurdle to clear. The CLPD provides guidance on how to move it within your CLP.

It points out:

Under the draconian restrictions on free speech that have been imposed on official Labour Party meetings it is not permitted to mention Jeremy Corbyn or discuss why he should be treated fairly by the party. This is a result of the extraordinary instructions that the general secretary has issued.

CLPD strongly advises Jeremy’s name should not be mentioned in any Labour Party meeting (branch or CLP) in connection with this rule change. It is not necessary to mention him in official meetings in order to explain the need for the rule book to be democratised in this way.

Pantomime

If the movers are unable to articulate the real purpose of the rule change in their speeches, then presumably they will have to use some other creative method to get the message across. It will be interesting to see how many CLPs manage to successfully submit this rule change before the deadline on June 17.

Then the real fun will begin. First it will need to be accepted as a valid rule change by the conference arrangements committee. In recent years this body has been tolerant of controversial proposals, correctly leaving it to conference to pass or reject them. However, there is no left majority here, so no guarantee it will reach conference floor. If it does, then no doubt it will be strongly opposed by the NEC (which now has a significant rightwing majority). That does not automatically mean it will fall – the NEC opposed the successful ‘by-election selections’ rule change referred to above. But every other CLP rule change fell last year.

There is a good chance that the majority of delegates representing CLPs will vote for it, but its real fate will be decided by trade union block votes. Here the horse-trading behind closed doors comes into play. Even if you have it in black and white, passed by your union’s full policy conference, there is nothing to stop the delegation to conference voting the other way as part of a bigger deal brokered by the general secretary.

But say, despite everything, the left has a good conference and the rule change is passed. What should we expect? Well, the NEC could easily get around it, as it has been doing with the ‘by-elections selections’ rule. Here it simply ‘determined’ that it was ‘inexpertly drafted’ and required NEC guidance to ‘clarify’ it. This guidance effectively turned it on its head, giving the NEC, instead of the local CLPs, a majority on the selection panels.

A more likely outcome is that the NEC will simply suspend Jeremy Corbyn over some other issue – perhaps something he has said criticising Nato during the war in Ukraine could form the basis of a complaint – and suspensions in the Labour Party can drag on for years. Whatever happens, the current balance of forces in Labour points to another defeat for the left, and no Jeremy on the ballot paper.

Clearly this whole pantomime is not the correct way for the Labour left to regroup and begin a fightback following the devastating defeats of the last two and a half years. The Corbyn period provided the left with the opportunity to put its strategy and tactics to the test, but they were found to be wanting. This is not the time for ‘back to business as usual’, as groups like the CLPD maintain: it is time to question everything, especially what socialism means, and what needs to change in the Labour Party to bring it about. The CLPD as an organisation is unworthy of its name. The changes it promotes just tinker around the edges of the rule book, and any ‘left’ victory it might win is dependent on a coalition with the right wing – and we have seen where that leads.

The CLPD will not call for the kind of democracy we need to transform the Labour Party into a genuine workers’ party. It is even against introducing democracy into the left itself. At its AGM earlier this year, questions were asked about its role in the secretive Centre Left Grassroots Alliance (CLGA) and the way it imposed left candidates for internal party elections. The top-table reply was that the CLGA would not be expanded if it meant including left groups where some members had been expelled from Labour. And there was no chance of any transparency, because the groups that made up the CLGA were sovereign organisations and anyway there was no need to change things: the current set-up was delivering.

In order to make real progress, the Labour left requires its victories in the party to be accompanied by the destruction of the fortresses of the right – the party bureaucracy and domination by the PLP. This means defeating that part of the party that is loyal to the British state and US imperialism. Such an approach has to be based on the ideas of class struggle, the ideas of Marxism. Anything else will just take us further down the Corbyn sinkhole.

[1].  labourlist.org/2022/05/exclusive-labour-accused-of-breaching-rules-in-wakefield-candidate-selection.

Dead not resting

James Harvey looks at the origins, politics and ultimate demise of Labour Briefing

The news that Labour Briefing has ceased publication, in both physical and online format, marks in many ways the end of an era for the Labour left.

Founded in 1980 as a “bulletin board for Labour Party activists”, the journal was a product of the growth of the left in the party’s ranks in the late 1970s and early 1980s.[1] Although Labour Briefing did have something of a national profile, its main base was in the London left and amongst those activists who would become prominent in the municipal politics of the Greater London Council in the Livingstone period. The politics of this current grew out of Trotskyism – either in the form of organised groups such as the Chartist minority or various ex-members of the various groups.[2] By its own lights, Labour Briefing reflected these differences and made a virtue out of eclecticism. As Chris Knight, one of the journal’s founders, puts it, “instead of propagating a particular ideology, we acted on the basis that class unity comes first and information is power”.[3]

However, behind this ostensible pluralism Labour Briefing was tied body and soul to the Labour Party and thus left reformism, which continues to reflect the wider ‘common sense’ politics of important sections of the Labour left up to the present day. In the 1980s this produced a municipal strategy of confronting the Thatcher government and supporting Bennite left reformism during Labour’s internal battles, whilst during the Blairite counterrevolution of the 1990s and 2000s it meant hunkering down and hoping for better days to come again.

Thus in 2012 Labour Briefing was ‘transferred’ to the Labour Representation Committee – a Labour left group formed around John McDonnell.[4] This gave rise to a split led by former Labour NEC member Christine Shawcroft. The politics behind this bust-up are thoroughly obscure and mixed with personality clashes. Despite brave attempts to have a full and honest debate, both sides preferred to listen to the latest witterrings of Owen Jones. The minority, having lost the vote by a pretty sizable margin, went on to produce their very own version of Labour Briefing – the so-called original Labour Briefing.[5] Somewhat bizarrely the minority blamed the CPGB for the split – we had two comrades at the meeting!

Of course, the LRC presented itself as the potential nucleus of a revived Labour Party, should the Blairite project completely overwhelm Labourism and sever the party’s links with the trade unions. In practice, the LRC was simply a vehicle for the dwindling careerist ambitions of left councillors and would-be councillors, combined with acting as a lifeboat for beleaguered activists trying to keep what remained of the Labour left together.

However, the election of Jeremy Corbyn and the influx of a new mass left membership, combined with the return of a layer of former left activists to the colours, would have been expected to provide both Labour Briefing and the LRC with something of a fillip. Given Corbyn’s personal and political links with both Labour Briefing and the political milieu from which it emerged, to the comrades on the editorial board it must have seemed that, following his election as Labour leader, their day had indeed finally come.[6] Strangely, it didn’t. The LRC membership remained static and nothing could prepare them for the ‘anti-Zionism equals anti-Semitism’ witch-hunt, which began, of course under Corbyn’s leadership, and continued even after Jennie Formby took over as general secretary.

Neither Corbyn nor McDonnell raised a peep of protest. All they did was appease, appease and appease again. To its credit Labour Briefing did fight back against the witch-hunt. To its discredit Labour Briefing refused to denounce the treachery of Corbyn, McDonnell and co. The dream was always of getting Corbyn into No10 and McDonnell into No11.

Whatever the specific and immediate reasons for the demise of Labour Briefing, its political trajectory from the 1980s reflects that of the official Labour left as a whole. Following the 2019 general election and the acceleration of the witch-hunt under Sir Keir, the official left fell into demoralisation and decay. The surrender of the official left in the Socialist Campaign Group of MPs, the business-as-usual passivity of the Campaign for Labour Party Democracy, the gutting of Momentum and the failure of broad left outfits such as the Labour Left Alliance illustrate the depth of the crisis now facing what remains of the Labour left. There has been initiative after initiative. All have come to nothing.

Necessity

The demise of Labour Briefing reflects the failure of the Labour left to develop the politics and strategy needed to mount any kind of fightback. We in Labour Party Marxists have long argued that the sorry fate of the official Labour left is not simply about individual betrayal and careerism (although these characteristics play an undoubted role), but rather can be found in the fundamental premises of the official left’s politics and its understanding of the nature of the Labour Party.

Throughout its history Labour Briefing argued that ‘transitional politics’ were the way to develop the socialist consciousness of the working class and that demands predicated on the election of a left Labour government were key in that process. Although framed in the insurrectionary language of ‘Labour take the power’ (with its self-conscious echoes of Lenin’s ‘All power to the soviets!’), this differed little in form from the usual Labour left reformism and electoral politics found in the old CPGB’s British road to socialism or the pages of Militant in the 1980s.

Whilst the politics of Labour Briefing from the beginning recognised the pro-capitalist nature of the Labour right and the roadblock that this leadership presents for socialists, they failed to even challenge, let alone break with, the reformism of the Labour left. Their politics remained essentially confined within the framework of Labourism and so continued to suffer the fate of the Labour left as a whole. Whether tail-ending the municipal left in the 1980s or excusing Corbyn’s retreats in the face of the Labour right in the late 2010s, Labour Briefing often provided a left cover for further accommodation and concessions. The result was that in the aftermath of the Corbyn moment, like others on the Labour left, the supporters of Labour Briefing could offer no real explanation of what went wrong – beyond Corbyn’s tactical misjudgements or some mild criticisms of his personal and political failings.

To really come to terms with the failure of Corbynism would have required a thorough rejection of their previous positions and developing instead a truly militant stance: namely that Labour cannot be understood as a ready-made instrument for the socialist transformation of society and that the self-emancipation of the working class requires revolutionary consciousness, not so-called transitional reformism.

It is not enough to simply note the passing of Labour Briefing and think of its demise as the end of a song. The type of politics it espoused and the illusions it fostered have deep roots in the workers’ movement: the closure of a journal does not liquidate the politics which it embodied. The left reformism of Labour Briefing and its like on the Labour left is a real barrier, which must be overcome if we are to develop a programme and build a party that can lead the working class to power.

Moreover, the spurious eclecticism and speculative discussion with which Labour Briefing identified itself are luxuries we cannot afford. Not developing clear and definite positions is criminally irresponsible for Marxists and amounts to an apolitical betrayal of the cause of the working class.

Given the growing threats of war and the serious political and economic crises that face the working class internationally, reforging authentic, militant, working class politics is not a choice, but an urgent necessity.

[1]. labourbriefing.org/blog/about.

[2]. The history of the British far left in this period – especially of the groups that entered the Labour Party – still remains to be written. Militant received considerable attention at the time, but there were other currents which also influenced the Labour left in this period and have been overlooked in the standard accounts.

[3]. labourbriefing.org/blog/about.

[4]. After the transfer, the editorial board of Labour Briefing was elected by LRC members, although Graham Bash and other founder members remained the driving force behind the journal.

[5]. This version of the journal still continues to be produced. See LB Archive – Labour Briefing Co-operative: labourbriefingcooperative.net/lb-archive.

[6]. By way of illustrating this relationship, the Labour Briefing website has a 1980s picture of Graham Bash and Jeremy Corbyn together at a demonstration: labourbriefing.org/blog/about.

The biters bitten

James Harvey asks why the AWL has been proscribed when it has given such unstinting service to the right in promoting the ‘anti-Zionism equals anti-Semitism’ big lie

The recent decision of Labour’s national executive committee to proscribe the Alliance for Workers’ Liberty almost makes you feel sorry for the average AWL member, who must be asking: what have we done to deserve such shabby and ungrateful treatment at the hands of the Labour bureaucracy? How dare they lump us in with such left groups as the Labour Left Alliance and the Socialist Labour Network, who were also proscribed at the same NEC meeting on March 29.[1] After all we have done, and continue doing, in support of Labour’s pro-imperialist leadership, they now turn on us and discard their faithful servants without so much as a second thought. Truly there is no gratitude left in the world!

It must all be very distressing for the AWL to find itself out in the cold and so shamefully abandoned. Worse still, it now shares the same fate as Labour left groups that the AWL accuses of being anti-Semitic and acting as useful idiots for Putin during the Ukraine war. Such pain was evident when a leading AWL supporter, Peter Radcliffe, put the group’s case when he appeared recently on Not the Andrew Marr show. The presenter, Crispin Flintoff, asked, why proscribe a group so close to Labour leadership positions on Ukraine, a second referendum on the European Union, and purging the left through (false) accusations of anti-Semitism? Radcliffe was hard put to produce a coherent response.[2] The core of his defence was a standard Labour loyalism and the AWL’s long history of campaigning for a Labour government as the only alternative to the Tories.

According to the faithful Peter, it seems that Keir Starmer does not know what is in the party’s best interests: he is worried, it appears, about the potential strength of the AWL’s influence within Labour’s ranks. So, despite being on the same page as Starmer on so many issues, Radcliffe asserted that the AWL is now under attack because it is the most credible opposition to the Labour leadership’s attempts to ensure total conformity within the party![3] For anyone with even the most cursory knowledge of the AWL’s complicity in the witch-hunt and the cover it provided for the most outrageous attacks on the authentic left, such an utterly self-serving explanation is risible. Such attempts at self-justification are also very revealing about the bankruptcy of AWL politics.

Its new-found opposition to bans and proscriptions and demands for freedom of speech within Labour have also provoked some wry amusement amongst those of us who defended such principled positions from the very beginning of the Labour right’s onslaught.[4] Where was the AWL when Labour Against the Witchhunt was proscribed and supporters of Palestinian rights were smeared as anti-Semites and hounded by the media? Did they support the pickets and protests at the Labour conference and outside NEC meetings in opposition to bans and proscriptions? Not only was the AWL absent from Labour movement demonstrations and meetings in favour of free speech, but it actively lined up with the right and joined in the attack. The role of individual AWL supporters in the constituencies in collaborating with the Labour bureaucracy by targeting leftwingers for expulsion is well-known.

All of this scabbing is not simply an accidental lapse in judgement: it is all of a piece with the AWL’s wider social-imperialist politics and practice since the 2000s.[5] Its current support for US imperialism and the aims of Nato expansion in Ukraine only builds on its earlier backing for imperialism’s ‘progressive’ wars of intervention in Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya, and the AWL’s active defence of Israel, and despite the inherent racism, expansionism and bellicose nature of the whole settler-colonial project.

This is why it is important to look at why the Labour leadership has now imposed these bans and proscriptions. The AWL’s own explanation – that it represents a real challenge to Starmer that has to be removed – does not really stand up. Having proven to be such ‘useful idiots’ for the Labour right throughout the witch-hunt, they are no threat at all to the party leadership. Perhaps the real explanation lies in the dynamics of a witch-hunt, which quickly takes on a momentum of its own – especially in such a bureaucratised, top-down, managerial-style party as Labour.

The party apparat has regained secure control once again after the temporary disruptions of the Corbyn period. As was all too apparent under his leadership, Labour MPs and full-time officials – both at the party’s HQ and in the regions – still retained considerable power, which they successfully used to undermine the left and democratic accountability within the party. Furthermore, we know how Corbyn and the rest of the official left compromised, thus failing to take the fight to the Labour right, and the political disaster that resulted. This weakness and acquiescence gave the bureaucracy a safe space from which to attack the left – an offensive which has continued to this day.

It may be that these party bureaucrats lack the political finesse to understand the valuable role the AWL has played for the right. To these hacks the AWL is just another bunch of Trots who need to be purged like all the rest. Apart from the tendency of purges to quickly get out of hand and embroil new victims far beyond the original targets, this latest move might have a more direct purpose in further weakening the soft left. If they can even go for such collaborators with the Labour right as the AWL, then even the mildest of critics are not safe.

Through its role in Another Europe is Possible and now the Ukraine Solidarity Campaign, the AWL has developed clear links with some soft left MPs and trade union bureaucrats. It is thus possible that behind this move against the AWL the real aim is to further muzzle even this hitherto accepted ‘left’ current. However, whatever the exact circumstances, the proscription of the AWL clearly points towards the direction that Labour is taking under Starmer. Even the most lukewarm of criticism cannot be tolerated and will be suppressed, irrespective of how useful a role its perpetrators may have played in the past.

Given the group’s poisonous, social-imperialist politics, few on the militant, genuine left will naturally have much sympathy for the AWL. With such an appalling record it would be easy to indulge in a little Schadenfreude and derive just some small pleasure from the way that the AWL biters have now themselves been bitten. However, that misses the point.

Despite our vehement opposition to the openly pro-imperialist politics of the AWL, we must, at this present juncture, oppose its proscription in the name of defending what remains of free speech in the Labour Party.

[1]. labourlist.org/2022/03/exclusive-awl-among-three-more-groups-to-be-proscribed-by-labour-nec.

[2]. www.youtube.com/watch?v=O93Orer7rXQ1.

[3]. www.workersliberty.org/index.php/story/2022-04-05/ban-means-narrowing-labour.

[4]. www.workersliberty.org/index.php/story/2022-04-05/model-motion-labour-ban-workers-liberty.

[5]. The Weekly Worker has an extensive archive of articles outlining how the politics and role of the AWL have developed from the 2000s onwards. For just a couple of examples of these processes, see ‘Matgamna’s chauvinistic tirade’ (October 31 2013): weeklyworker.co.uk/worker/984/awl-matgamnas-chauvinistic-tirade; and ‘Those who side with imperialism’ (October 23 2014): weeklyworker.co.uk/worker/1031/those-who-side-with-imperialism.

Spineless response to the Ukraine war

Its response to the Ukraine war shows the official Labour ‘left’ is sinking ever further into the mire, writes James Harvey

Sir Keir Starmer is having a ‘good war’, but, then again, we would expect nothing less from this trusted servant of British imperialism and its American masters.

For months Sir Keir has been setting out his stall as an alternative prime minister and a safe, reliable pair of hands, who can be trusted to enter Downing Street and ‘govern’ in the interests of capitalism. Defence of Nato and the interests of US imperialism are central to the British state, and in his job application Starmer has made his support for this strategic status quo a central theme. Until last autumn this had something of a platonic character: true, it was politically and symbolically important in demonstrating loyalty to the state, and a good way of drawing a clear line between himself and his notoriously unreliable predecessor, Jeremy Corbyn, but there was no immediate political crisis that necessitated a choice.

Then came Ukraine and Sir Keir relished his opportunity to trumpet his loyalty to Nato and show that, when called upon, he could take an even harder line than the most rightwing jingoists on the Tory back benches. Whether it was calling for even tougher sanctions or standing fully behind the Ukrainian state, Starmer was always on hand to provide the statesmanlike rhetoric and necessary support for the Nato line.[1] As war fever swept the House of Commons and the media, he enthusiastically joined in and, like the rest of the capitalist class, was willing to fight to the last Ukrainian in defence of western values and freedom against the Russian autocracy.

If Sir Keir acted his part to perfection, the official Labour left too has been playing its own rather ignominious role during this crisis. If truth is the first casualty of war, for the parliamentary left principled politics comes a very close second. Just when you thought what passes for a left wing in the Labour Party could not fall any lower, leading left MPs sink even further into the mire and prostrate themselves before the pro-imperialist leadership of Starmer.

Apart from the unashamedly pro-Nato Paul Mason, the openly pro-imperialist Alliance for Workers’ Liberty, the confused Mandelites of Anti-Capitalist Resistance and the fellow-travellers of rightwing Ukrainian nationalism in the Ukrainian Solidarity Campaign, the dominant moods on the left are a species of social pacifism, reflected in the statements of the Stop the War Coalition. These oppose the war, criticise Nato expansion and urge diplomacy and negotiation as a solution to the crisis. In line with the popular-frontism of its leadership, they seek to build a mass movement in alliance with progressives and other bien pensants of the liberal bourgeoisie.[2] Hence, they stick to righteous indignation at the horrors of war and avoid the complexities of great-power politics. Above all, they do not link the struggle against war to the capitalist system that spawns it or pose a specifically independent working class politics that links fundamental questions of war, peace and the importance of fighting the real enemy – the ruling class at home.

It was to a statement of this type of social pacifism that 11 Labour MPs (plus Jeremy Corbyn and Claudia Webbe) added their names on the eve of the war – only to retract them when Starmer threatened to withdraw the whip or even possibly expel them from the party for daring to be even mildly critical of Nato![3] This was followed by an even more cowardly retreat, when John McDonnell and Diane Abbott pulled out of speaking at an StWC meeting following yet more reported threats from Starmer.[4] To compound McDonnell’s cowardice, it appears from reports that Starmer only said that “ the party would be looking closely at what was said about Nato and the war in Ukraine” rather than pronouncing an explicit anathema on McDonnell’s attendance per se. However, McDonnell has always been good at sniffing the wind and knew exactly what Starmer expected of him.[5]

Abbott went even further in her abject recantation and gave explicit backing to Nato as a “defensive alliance”. Having a debate around Nato strategy is one thing,” she said, but “attacking Nato is another. Everybody in the Labour Party supports a defensive alliance” (my emphasis).[6]

Sir Keir has made Stop the War a particularly symbolic and political target, and his attacks on this social-pacifist campaign have grown as the crisis has unfolded.[7] As he drove the point home and denounced even the muted critical politics of the Labour left, these bold leaders simply collapsed and grovelled at the leadership’s bidding.

Betrayal

This betrayal by what remains of the official Labour left is all the more stark because of the long histories of McDonnell and Abbott in opposition to Blair’s imperialist wars, and their personal connections with Jeremy Corbyn in those campaigns. In this instance the wounds and the sense of treachery truly are personal. Given McDonnell’s role in conniving at the witch-hunt and attempting to placate the Labour right during the Corbyn era, we should not be at all surprised by his abject surrender to Starmer and his vow of silence, when it comes to criticism of Nato and the strategy of the British state. Moreover, he continues to support the USC and thus give a ‘left’ cover to pro-Nato politics. So bold John is now effectively amongst the cheerleaders for greater support for the Ukrainian state and is laying the ground for even more direct intervention in the war. But, before we pass on to the bigger picture, let us consider McDonnell’s specific defence of his recantation of the StWC statement and withdrawal from the protest meeting. Beginning with the argument that “people are dying on the streets of Ukrainian cities”, McDonnell goes on to say:

This is not the time to be distracted by political arguments here. Now is the time to unite and do all we can to assist the people of Ukraine desperately seeking asylum and to do all we can to bring about peace. Nothing is more important at this time. Nothing should distract us from that. So I won’t feed into that distraction by going tonight.

I do think many Labour Party members will want clarity over the Labour Party’s attitude to attending demonstrations organised by Stop the War or by them jointly with other groups. My final comment is that, in the wider context of securing a socialist Labour government, and possibly inspired by my team Liverpool at Wembley at the weekend, I do believe it’s important for socialists to stay on the pitch for as long as it takes [my emphasis throughout].[8]

This rather brief statement reveals the utter bankruptcy and rotten core at the heart of the official Labour left, and the complete lack of any authentic or determined leadership amongst its MPs and trade union bureaucrats. As the official Labour left continues its demoralisation and disintegration, this is the type of compromising ‘leadership’ that remains behind to further disillusion and disorientate honest left activists. Now is not the time to be distracted by political arguments!

As if questions of war, peace, imperialism and great-power strategic rivalry are not issues for political argument which demand a socialist, working class response to the war in Ukraine. Rather than develop our own politics and make the voice of independent proletarian internationalism heard amidst the clamour of war, demands by the likes of McDonnell that we unite and do all we can for peace really mean that workers in each country are being asked to effectively line up behind their ruling class.

The reasons why McDonnell and co fail this vital test is not just moral cowardice or careerism, although they have their part in these betrayals of the official Labour left. At the root of these politics is the original sin of the Labour left since the early 20th century: namely compromise with capitalism and a lack of confidence that the working class can rise to the challenges of both war and peace, and overthrow capitalism internationally. The official Labour left’s road to socialism lies not through the conscious self-emancipation of the working class, but through the parliamentary road of “ socialist Labour governments” and gradual modifications of capitalism. Any hint of principled politics is jettisoned in subordination to that goal, which requires endless compromise with the pro-capitalist Labour right and constant retreat on even the semblance of socialist politics.

War and peace are fundamental questions for society and the working class internationally. Wars have historically exposed the nature of imperialist and great-power rivalry, and the reality of class society. The war in Ukraine is no exception, showing the strategic competition between the US hegemon and its Nato clients, and a regional power, Russia (and, behind it, a major challenger to US hegemony, China).

The voice of the left and independent working class politics is at its weakest since the 19th century, but that does not mean we must meekly surrender to capitalism and imperialism like the official Labour left. Our forces are as yet too weak to turn this colonial war by proxy into a civil war of workers against the bourgeoisie, but we must continue to adhere to that programme of independent working class action.

Unlike traitors such as John McDonnell, for the genuine partisans of socialist and internationalist politics the main enemy remains at home. In time of war there is no other position: here we stand – we can do no other


 

[1]. www.theguardian.com/world/2022/mar/08/zelenskiy-invokes-churchill-calls-on-uk-do-more-help-ukraine.

[2]. morningstaronline.co.uk/article/being-anti-war-does-not-make-us-apologists-enemy-or-anyone-else.

[3]. www.theguardian.com/politics/2022/feb/24/labour-mps-drop-backing-for-statement-criticising-nato-after-starmer-warning.

[4]. www.theguardian.com/politics/2022/mar/02/john-mcdonnell-and-diane-abbott-pull-out-of-stop-the-war-rally.

[5]. labourlist.org/2022/03/exclusive-john-mcdonnell-will-not-attend-stop-the-war-event.

[6]. labourlist.org/2022/03/diane-abbott-we-could-even-support-stop-the-war-under-tony-blair.

[7]. www.newstatesman.com/comment/2022/03/by-repudiating-stop-the-war-keir-starmer-has-reclaimed-labours-true-history; www.theguardian.com/politics/2022/feb/10/keir-starmer-says-stop-the-war-coalition-gives-help-to-authoritarians-like-putin.

[8]. labourlist.org/2022/03/exclusive-john-mcdonnell-will-not-attend-stop-the-war-event.

Cosying up to Sir Keir

Derek James reports on the split in the Socialist Campaign Group and the prospects for the ‘insider’ strategy

Another day, another initiative on the Labour left. However, this time rather than a new ‘rank and file’ initiative, it seems that a group of 11 Campaign Group MPs and one member of the Scottish parliament are forming a new parliamentary caucus. Reports on social media and blogs like Labour List and Skwawkbox are still somewhat sketchy, but even at this early stage the main outlines of the project seem clear enough.[1]

In what seems to be a carefully planted leak, the group’s ‘strategy coordination document’ outlines the political and organisational basis of the new group, and its relationship to the current Labour leadership. Whilst much social media attention has been on its funding by a levy on MPs, proposals for a full-time staff member/researcher and ideas for more high-profile parliamentary interventions modelled on the US Democrats’ ‘Squad’, it is the broader political orientation of the as yet unnamed group that is of the greatest interest.

The putative group identifies itself, of course, as being on the left, but this is a ‘new left’, you understand. It is distinctly different from the old left represented by Corbyn and the socially reactionary elements of old-style Labourism, because it is “pushing the Labour leadership to do better on its economic approach, and social and environmental justice issues”.[2] We can surmise what this might mean by looking a little more closely at some of the names currently in the frame. They are said to include backbenchers Lloyd Russell-Moyle, Clive Lewis, Nadia Whittome, Rachel Maskell, Dawn Butler and Kim Johnson, along with frontbenchers Sam Tarry and Olivia Blake. Apparently other MPs were asked to get involved, such as Paula Barker, Beth Winter, Nav Mishra and Rachel Hopkins, but they declined for various reasons.[3] On the face of it this motley collection of very soft-left Labourites has little in common. Although they largely represent a new generation of post-Corbyn MPs – that is, people who were elected since 2015 – this group of careerists and opportunists come from different backgrounds and political positions.

Thus Clive Lewis, who is likely to be the leading figure if this project ever gets off the ground, has been a member of Corbyn’s shadow cabinet and was a possible leadership candidate in 2020. Resigning from the shadow cabinet in 2017 over Labour’s support for triggering article 50 to leave the European Union, he is still strongly identified with the remainers.[4] Lewis has also made something of a name for himself amongst Labour activists by ‘campaigning’ for liberal approaches to race, immigration and asylum issues, and presenting the ‘Green New Deal’ as a radical alternative economic strategy. He is the very model of a modern, moderate, post-Corbyn ‘leftist’, who can get a good write-up in The Guardian and space in Tribune, alongside an undeserved reputation as a leftwinger in Constituency Labour Parties. Whilst others on the list, such as Nadia Whittome and Lloyd Russell-Moyle, share a similar pedigree on the soft left, some members of this putative caucus, including Kim Johnson and Dawn Butler, have their roots in other types of activism in local government, community groups and the trade unions.

Invertebrate

However, there is one trait that they all share to a greater or lesser extent – a refusal to publicly oppose the attacks on Corbyn and complete silence on the witch-hunt. If the response by the SCG in general to the onslaught of the Starmer leadership has been pathetically supine, then the record of this subset of individuals has been positively invertebrate. Despite their protestations of leftism, MPs like Nadia Whittome and Kim Johnson have joined in attacks on the left in their CLPs or discreetly worked with the party machine to undermine any challenges to the Starmer leadership.[5] This combination of political characteristics and individual careerism finds its nadir in the approach of the new caucus towards the leadership of Keir Starmer. This goes beyond the cowardice and compromise that is the hallmark of the ‘official left’ to complete capitulation.

Our bold ‘leftists’ can read as well as anyone and throughout their distinguished political careers have developed a very keen sense of the way the wind blows in the Labour Party. So the strategy outlined is one of tacking between what remains of the left amongst party activists and snuggling up to the Starmer leadership.

Alongside “conventional parliamentary tactics”, we are promised some really dramatic action to spice things up for their potential audience in the CLPs and “capture media attention”, such as “calling Boris Johnson a liar, actions involving dresscodes, knee in the chamber, etc”.[6] There is a fine heroic, historical tradition of working class tribunes using the platform that parliaments can provide to denounce the ruling class and mobilise a mass movement against capitalism. But what even these MPs admit are puerile parliamentary stunts are certainly not that!

While this publicity-seeking might catch the eye of the media and get a few headlines, their real attention is focused elsewhere on what, significantly, the new group defines as its “insider strategy”. These “tactical approaches” aim to put “pressure on Keir Starmer off and on his front bench” by “working alongside Starmer and trying to steer him rather than resist or remove him” (emphasis in original).[7] This strategy of surrender is couched in the fashionable language of “an alliance between GND (green new deal) and new/progressive economics”, representing little more than some warmed-over Keynesianism, elements of modern monetary theory and worthy green projects.[8] Like Labour’s 2019 election manifesto, this represents nothing more than a modified, regulated capitalism, albeit with a green-wash makeover. However, given what we have heard from the Labour leadership about its pro-business credentials, it is likely that even these timid, ‘progressive’ reforms will get short shrift from the oh so responsible shadow chancellor, Rachel Reeves.[9]

It does not take a political genius to predict that this new group is unlikely to get very far. It clearly represents something of a split to the right by some elements in the rather quiescent and actually quite moribund SCG. At all levels of the party former leftists have moved on from keeping their heads down to now actively making their peace with the Starmer regime. This should not surprise us, given the experience we had throughout the witch-hunt when supposed leftist MPs and activists either stood mutely aside or – even worse – joined in the attacks on the genuine left in the Labour Party. This new initiative is really just the logical extension of that approach.

Will anyone be convinced by this ‘insider strategy’? Starmer and his allies will not be impressed. Although they already have enough useful idiots recruited from among former leftists who abandoned the cause, a few more are always handy. However, for all the fine talk of a new strategy, it will be the leadership that is calling the shots: all this new group will be doing is providing a mildly left cover for Starmer, while trying to persuade Labour activists to concentrate on the main issue: unite behind the leadership and focus on ‘getting rid of Johnson’.

It is possible that some left activists might be persuaded to go along with the politics of this putative split from the SCG. In the wake of the defeat and disintegration of the Corbyn movement, the failure of the official left to offer any sort of lead has disorientated and demoralised many. So some might clutch at these straws of bizarre parliamentary stunts and making your peace with the leadership for want of anything else. But if they do they will surely find themselves simply acting as bit-part players, mere voting fodder supporting the careers of political opportunists.

The politics of this new group, however, point to something more fundamental than just individual failings and venal parliamentary ambitions. This tendency towards compromise is inherent in the Labour left: it is an original sin that flows from their focus on achieving ‘socialism’ through the election of a left Labour government, which in turn is predicated on the necessity of unity with and political surrender to the pro-capitalist Labour right. The whole history of the official Labour left is made up of these types of compromise, which end up ultimately as major betrayals and defeats for the working class.

In its timidity and complete surrender to Starmer, the politics of this new group of MPs is just the latest iteration of this thoroughly discredited and putrid tradition


[1]. labourlist.org/2022/02/revealed-new-left-group-sparks-debate-over-divisions-among-left-mps: skwawkbox.org/2022/01/29/exclusive-new-left-socialist-campaign-group-mps-form-new-separate-eco-group.

[2]. skwawkbox.org/2022/01/29/exclusive-new-left-socialist-campaign-group-mps-form-new-separate-eco-group.

[3]. labourlist.org/2022/02/revealed-new-left-group-sparks-debate-over-divisions-among-left-mps.

[4]. www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/politics/brexit-bill-latest-clive-lewis-resigns-jeremy-corbyn-labour-party-three-line-whip-brexit-bill-norwich-a7570416.html.

[5]. ‘Careerism on the Mersey’ Weekly Worker March 11 2021: weeklyworker.co.uk/worker/1338/careerism-on-the-mersey.

[6]. skwawkbox.org/2022/01/29/exclusive-new-left-socialist-campaign-group-mps-form-new-separate-eco-group.

[7]. Ibid.

[8]. Ibid.

[9]. www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-60068222.

A rapidly sinking ship

Clive Dean reports on an organisation in sharp decline, politically at sea and now lacking any strategic perspective

At its height just 82 people attended the zoom call for the AGM of the Labour Representation Committee, held last Saturday
February 5. Far less than would attend the ‘normal’ face-to-face meetings in London’s Conway Hall. But nowadays it is dangerous to even appear on the same computer screen as those who have been expelled … and spies from Labour’s Victoria Street HQ were undoubtedly recording and readying new lists of those to be ‘investigated’. The AGM had been postponed from October last year, presumably in part out of fear of the witch-hunters, but also due to the pandemic and toll that has taken in terms of human resources.

There was a full agenda, but, thankfully, the non-appearance of billed guests Apsana Begum MP and Unison president Paul Holmes allowed some space for questions and debate. Exactly what the LRC leadership ‘normally’ seeks to avoid by packing the agenda to the rafters.

Having said that, potential time was still taken up by the rally-style guest speakers – Neda Abu Zant from Palestine and John Lister from SOS NHS. Then there were the constitutional amendments and policy motions to consider, but these contained nothing at all controversial, just tidying up the rules, affiliating to the Palestine Solidarity Campaign and updating policy on housing, local government cuts and open selections.

An emergency motion on the Russia/Ukraine tension would have been in order, given the imminent threat of war and the LRC’s affiliation to the pro-imperialist cat’s paw, the Ukraine Solidarity Campaign. It draws an equals sign between “western imperialism” and “Russian imperialism” but gives the game away by championing “Ukrainian self-determination”. Nato expansionism and the Russian question within Ukraine is brushed over. But no, the nearest we got to a contentious vote was on the proposal to open up the zoom chat feature (lost 29:25).

Time given over for questions and debate featured in the morning session, both following Jeremy Corbyn (originally billed as a panel speaker) and around the LRC executive’s political statement. These were by far the most interesting, well, to be honest, the least boring, parts of the proceedings, so I will concentrate on the issues that came up.

Jeremy Corbyn’s contribution contained some unexpected points – he began by expressing his solidarity with those who have been suspended and expelled from the Labour Party. Does that include those witch-hunted under his watch? He asked the question, “Did we make mistakes while I was party leader”, and replied, “Yes, plenty”. He defended his efforts to mobilise the 400,000 who joined the party during that period and his attempts to transform the party into a campaigning organisation.

He lamely criticised the current party leadership for concentrating on suspensions and expulsions rather than organising against the Tories. He mentioned the tension over the Russia/Ukraine border, but went no further than calling for peace (perhaps he was aware of tensions within the LRC). He did, though, alert us to the non-danger of Boris Johnson attempting a Falklands-style engagement to save his failing premiership.

Ask Jeremy

Chairing, Matt Wrack asked for questions for Jeremy – not something I’ve encountered before!

Tina Werkmann was first to seize the opportunity and asked him to elaborate on the mistakes. Agreeing with his assessment that anti-Semitism in the Labour Party had been overstated for political reasons, she asked if he agreed that calling for zero-tolerance of anti-Semitism was a mistake, and that education was a better response. She also asked if it would have been better to face down the right in the Parliamentary Labour Party rather than compromising, as the right were part of a class war against the Labour left.

Nick Wrack also thought it was important to look at what went wrong. For him the key issues were the failure to mobilise the mass membership and the retreat from open selections. Looking forward, he considered it vital for the left to be clear on the questions of “What is socialism?” and “How do we get there?” Managing capitalism was not the answer: the profit system had to be abolished.

Other contributors steered clear of ‘mistakes’, though Alison McGarry thought that a Corbyn victory in 2019 would have faced a coup, something the left was totally ill-prepared to rebuff, she said.

Some of Corbyn’s responses were illuminating – apparently he is preparing a book about his time as leader, which will include self-criticism. He told us that at his first prime minister’s questions he was aware that in the PLP seated behind him he had the support of barely 15 MPs. While his leadership was able to garner strong support using social media, dealing with the mainstream media had been a big failing. As if the mainstream media was ever going to come over to support a Corbyn-led government. Corbyn agreed that discussing ‘what socialism means’ is important, and his Peace and Justice Project will be inviting everyone on the left to contribute 500 words on this subject – not exactly a recipe for clarity.

Unfit

Amazingly, the LRC executive’s political statement was exactly the same document that was due to be presented back in October, with a small appendix added that covered the US withdrawal from Afghanistan and the Taliban take-over. Hence some of it was painfully out of date. For example, the pledges to build support for Cop26 events in Glasgow. The slogan for the AGM was ‘building the resistance’, and this seems to be the ‘positive’ course for the LRC projected within the statement. In fact, the LRC’s old strategy of backing left MPs and getting Labour into office as the road to socialism has been completely exposed as utterly illusory. Indeed the LRC has no answer about how to fight the ongoing anti-Zionism equals anti-Semitism witch-hunt. Hence, in the absence of anything approaching a viable strategy the LRC leadership clutches at “the trade unions, climate change protests, Black Lives Matter, in solidarity with the Palestinian people, defending asylum seekers and migrants, resisting violence against women or discrimination against disabled people, fighting Universal Credit and the cut in its uplift, parts of the mutual aid movement and many more”.

In moving the statement, Graham Bash sounded the alarm for the LRC, which, along with the rest of the Labour left, had failed to stop the witch-hunt. He rightly agued that the Starmer purge was class war, and that over 200,000 members had already left the party. He urged those remaining not to give up and noted that alternative electoral ventures usually failed miserably. He urged the LRC to rise to the “challenges” – tailing existing protest movements? Otherwise the LRC was no longer fit for purpose – which is clearly already the case.

At least 15 members joined in the discussion, though many were oblivious to the stark warnings from comrade Bash, and some were totally off beam. Predictably there were voices calling for a new non-Marxist broad left to bring together all the left groups within Labour, united around ‘a dozen points we all agree on’. Ironically such unprincipled unity can only encourage further demoralisation and disintegration – because it is bound to fail. Others endorsed the suggestion to divert efforts into supporting broad movements outside the party – again a route away from socialist politics. Many gave examples of the crisis of democracy within the party and how it is damaging the prospects for left candidates. But throughout there was an undercurrent of despair, summed up when Nick Wrack asked “What is the LRC for?”

In reply to the discussion, comrade Bash declared that this time the fight within Labour was different, and the party we know may not survive. On supporting those standing against Labour he recalled backing Ken Livingstone and Dave Nellist in earlier struggles, and would support Corbyn should he be forced to stand outside Labour. His blunt answer to the question “What is the way forward?” was that he didn’t know – the struggle will provide the answers. Surely a declaration of strategic bankruptcy.

No contest

The unhealthy spirit of hopelessness also affected other areas of the AGM. Nobody felt the need to question the treasurer’s report, despite an ominous loan for £5,000 which appeared to be funding an ‘organiser’. The 18 officers and the new executive committee were all elected unopposed, though nominations for some posts were only received on the day, and at least one post remains unfilled. Only five of the candidates deigned to submit a personal statement, so perhaps it is just as well there were no votes. A look at the attendance record for the retiring executive reveals that at least one third of them had resigned part-way through their period in office.

A new editorial board was elected for the LRC’s ‘monthly’ journal, Labour Briefing. But there was no comment on its non-appearance since September, and no update on the email received in November, advising members: “We are pausing production while we re-organise and hopefully relaunch.” The talk is that when the relaunch comes it won’t be printed anymore, but will be just another one of those worthy but largely pointless online publications, that no one organises to support and very few go to the bother of reading.

When it ‘normally’ appears, Labour Briefing proclaims that “The LRC is a democratic, socialist body working to transform the Labour Party into an organisation that reflects all sections of the working class.” A thoroughly dubious formulation. No, we should seek to drive away, overthrow, the labour and trade union bureaucracy, not reflect, let alone promote, their narrow sectional interests and self-serving careers. But that is exactly what the LRC has been all about, and look how it has ended. Failure, complete and abject failure.

Refound Labour as a permanent united front of the working class

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