Category Archives: Momentum

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.

Amongst the living dead

Momentum is irreformable, argues David Shearer of Labour Party Marxists, but we should back principled left candidates

The biennial elections to Momentum’s leading committee, the national coordinating group, began on June 16 and will end in two weeks time.

This token committee consists of up to 36 members – four from each of five rather arbitrarily defined ‘regions’, plus four “Labour public office holders”, a maximum of 10 nominated representatives of trade unions and other affiliated organisations, and one each from Welsh Labour Grassroots and the Campaign for Socialism (Scotland). According to Momentum’s own guidelines,

at least two of the members elected from each division should be women, and at least one should self-identify as Bame (black, Asian, ethnic minority). If the 20 members who are elected do not include one person who self-identifies as disabled, one person who self-identifies as LGBT+ and three young persons under 30, then up to four more places will be elected to ensure these groups are represented.

They certainly would not fail a ‘political correctness’ test, would they? The NCG is supposed to meet at least four times a year, but everyone knows that up to now Momentum has been something of a one-man show. Founded in 2015 as a left-Labour grouping in support of Jeremy Corbyn, following his election as party leader, it was literally owned by Jon Lansman, who in May 2020 announced he was going to stand down as Momentum chair. As of June 15 2020 he remains, according to Companies House, a director, alongside Elizabeth Kennedy Hayden, of Momentum Campaign (Services) Ltd.

It was Lansman’s January 2017 coup that put an end to any meaningful democracy within the organisation and since then more and more members have become disillusioned. Momentum became one of the living dead, with many on the Labour left hoping to see the creation of an alternative grouping. Amongst this discontent the Labour Left Alliance was formed in July 2019.

Lansman’s resignation as chair comes, of course, after the disastrous December 2019 general election and the humiliation of Rebecca Long-Bailey, the continuity candidate, in the subsequent leadership elections. Lansmanism had ended in complete, utter and comprehensive failure. But it is a case of ‘Lansmanism is dead, long live Lansmanism’. His co-thinkers formed a new faction, named Momentum Renewal, which is standing a full set of candidates for the NCG in each ‘region’, as well as for ‘office-holders’, including John Trickett MP.

The main ‘left’ opposition grouping is called Forward Momentum, which includes, amongst others, supporters of the Alliance for Workers’ Liberty. The social-imperialist AWL operates, in fact, more like an external faction of Momentum Renewal. Its candidate, Ruth Cashman, was rudely ejected from standing under its slate and is now to be found under the Momentum Internationalist banner.

Unlike Momentum Renewal, Forward Momentum replied in full to the questions posed by the LLA to NCG candidates.2 It says it is committed to the “fight for socialist policies”, which include a series of vague policies relating to “public ownership”, rolling back privatisation in the national health service, “advancing migrants rights” and repealing “all anti-trade union laws”. Equally vaguely, it calls for “greater democracy” in the Labour Party, but at least it specifies support for the open selection of parliamentary candidates.

To show that it too can pass the PC test, Forward Momentum states: “We are committed to fighting racism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia, Islamophobia, anti-Semitism, ageism and disablism.” But, talking of anti-Semitism, what does it say about the ongoing witch-hunt directed against the Labour left, based largely on false allegations of anti-Semitism?

Well, yes, “some individuals face suspension for unclear reasons”, but “Independent reviews reveal that there are clear incidences of anti-Semitism within the Labour Party that must be tackled.” True, “the level … in the Labour Party does not exceed that of the general population or other political parties”, but “any level … is serious and needs to be dealt with” – after all, “the Labour Party, including the left, is not immune from anti-Semitism and other forms of racism”.

Bravely, however, Momentum Renewal denies that “non-violent means to pressure the Israeli government to end its illegal occupation of Palestinian territories and comply with its obligations under international law” are “inherently anti-Semitic”. Well, that is good to know. Presumably violent means are inherently anti-Semitic. And in that miserable spirit it maintains a slightly ambiguous stance on the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s so-called ‘definition’ of anti-Semitism, which was adopted by Labour in 2018:

We recognise that many Palestinian civil society organisations, human rights campaigners and others have raised concerns about how the examples that accompany the IHRA working definition could be misused to stifle discussion about Palestinian oppression. We are absolutely clear in holding the Labour Party to its commitment on not undermining freedom of expression, as well as to defending our Jewish comrades against anti-Semitism.

Anticapitalist Platform

An altogether more principled position is taken by the Anticapitalist Platform, which was formed, in the main, by Red Flag, an organisation that is politically close to the now liquidated Workers Power (Paul Mason used to be a leading member).

Its statement declares:

The key lesson of the Corbyn leadership is that the pro-capitalist Labour and trade union bureaucracy will never allow ‘their’ party to be peacefully – democratically or bureaucratically – transformed into a fighting party of the working class, one dedicated to the expropriation of the capitalist class and the implementation of workers’ power on the basis of a democratically planned economy, which is the only honest definition of socialism.

It puts forward a series of demands, including, the nationalisation of “the commanding heights of the economy, without compensation and under workers’ control”. The banks too should be nationalised and merged “as the first step towards a democratically planned economy”, which would allow the working class to “implement a green industrial revolution, abolish poverty and expand social services”.

And it is clear that “socialism”, however defined, must be a global enterprise: “Such a programme can be started in Britain, but only realised internationally.” Working class “resistance to … crises must be linked to the struggle for the overthrow of capitalism as a system and the organisation of an international socialist commonwealth”.

Whatever our differences with some of this, including the lack of any demands relating to the immediate struggle for a democratic republic, it is clear that this is not the usual Labour left reformism. In fact it is clear that the Anticapitalist Platform is committed to the complete transformation of Labour:

Our starting point is recognising that the Labour Party is contradictory. On the one hand, it is the expression of that part of the working class that sees itself as a class and the need to form an independent party that fights for its rights. On the other, it is a party of the union leaders and officials and their counterparts among the MPs and councillors, who want to manage capitalism better than the capitalists and promote a more equitable society.

The starting point in the transformation then is “full democratisation”, going far beyond “open selection”. But in the end, “We have to purge the party by replacing every pro-capitalist MP, councillor and official with class fighters.”

Where the three Anticapitalist Platform candidates are standing they deserve support. In other words, if you are in London, two of your four regional votes should go to Urte Macikene and Marcel Golten. Meanwhile, if you are part of the “Yorkshire, North East, Cumbria, Scotland and International region”, then cast your vote for Andy Young.

In saying this, I obviously disagree with the position taken by the LLA’s organising group, which met on June 13. It agreed to support Syed Siddiqi, who is standing in London, and added:

While we do not offer endorsements for any other specific candidates or slates, we encourage all Momentum members to take part in this election process to support candidates that will commit to a real transformation, and to consider their responses (or failure to respond) to the questions from LLA.

So why the exception for Syed Siddiqi (also standing in London)? It is more a question of solidarity than political support, it seems, as he has been suspended from Labour on false ‘anti-Semitism’ charges since December 2017 as part of the anti-left witch-hunt. Although he is an LLA signatory, his platform is not exactly radical. However, he says he is “a socialist member of the party”, who will “campaign for Momentum to have a members-led annual conference which determines Momentum’s position on national campaigns and policies”.

Nevertheless, he should be supported, in addition to comrades Macikene and Golten. In general, however, it is obviously a good idea to back principled candidates. By definition that does not include anyone standing under the Momentum Renewal or Momentum Internationalist banners. With that in mind, I would encourage all members to visit the Momentum website and closely read the statements of all those standing in their region. You should have received an email giving you access to online voting, as well as to all the candidates’ statements.

In this I am clearly at odds with those members of the LLA organising group who are supporters of Labour Party Marxists. At the June 13 meeting, they agreed that the LLA should not in general endorse any candidates, on the basis that Momentum is dying a death and is no longer a site for struggle.

This was a mistake. Nonetheless, it is clear Momentum is irreformable. So, yes, vote, but vote without illusions.

 

Affiliation and a line change

Labour Party Marxists has formed a fraction and tweaked its approach to Momentum elections, Stan Keable reports

Labour Left Alliance’s Organising Group met on June 13. I was one of two comrades representing the newly affiliated Labour Party Marxists. We now have a handful of delegates and have therefore organised ourselves into a disciplined fraction.

Although the OG meeting lasted over four hours, with only a 10-minute break, it felt good to spend a Saturday afternoon on Zoom amongst two dozen comrades from LLA-affiliated groups from across the United Kingdom. Yes, delegates were present from Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. Political discussions were forthright but friendly. For all its limitations Zoom allowed us to see and hear each other clearly … and you can mute your microphone and listen while you make a cup of tea without missing any of the discussion.

Making decisions by online voting worked pretty well too, and augurs well for the LLA’s second conference – to be held online over August 22-23. Sometimes raising your hand or displaying a thumbs-up symbol was sufficient to show a clear majority for ‘yes’ or ‘no’. When numbers were needed, the host comrade was able to quickly draft a pop-up voting form and, only a few seconds later, display the results.

The LLA is pursuing a “campaign for left unity”, particularly aimed at achieving a single left slate in the next round of the Labour Party’s national executive committee elections, to replace the now defunct Centre Left Grassroots Alliance. Since its foundation in 1998, the CLGA has produced a (mostly) winning slate of not-too-left candidates to represent the Constituency Labour Parties on the NEC. That pretty successful bureaucratic fix was broken when Jon Lansman decided to railroad through his Momentum slate. A divided left saw the right win all three vacant NEC seats.

CLGA slates used to emerge mysteriously from unreported horse-trading in ‘smoke-filled rooms’ between Momentum, the Campaign for Labour Party Democracy, Red Labour, the Labour Representation Committee and a few other acceptable soft left groups. Now, the LLA seeks its seat at the table, but not on any terms. The May 16 OG minutes reported as follows:

Our campaign for left unity must be based on principled politics, which we might call our ‘red lines’:

  1. Any negotiations have to be conducted in a democratic and transparent manner.
  2. This includes the method for NEC candidate elections, which should be conducted via ballots of the groups’ respective members.
  3. We must continue to make a stand against the witch-hunt, past and present.
Affiliation

It was in the context of its campaign for ‘left unity on principled politics’ that the LLA wrote a series of questions to Don’t Leave, Organise (DLO) when it was launched in mid-April. The LLA asked whether it could affiliate to this lame outfit. At the May 16 OG meeting, DLO secretary Glyn Secker explained that groups cannot “affiliate” to DLO, but they can “join”. So, with his input, the OG agreed a motion to “join” and sent a letter asking to join – and, four weeks later, received a rather puzzling reply, delaying LLA’s request.

A moment of uncomfortable tension in Saturday’s OG meeting arose over the Catch-22 explanation offered by comrade Secker. DLO had delayed LLA’s application because it was unable to answer the “searching questions” about the nature of DLO, which was still being discussed – by those organisations which have been allowed to join. Incidentally, they include the bakers and firefighters unions. Naturally, this circular argument went down like a lead balloon. To resolve the matter, the OG decided to write to DLO again, stating that the questions were not linked to our application, and asking to join immediately, so we can participate in any discussions on the nature of DLO.

However, its reluctance is obviously political. I recall comrade Secker explaining the point to the LLA’s February 22 launch conference. While speaking against allowing Marxist groups like LPM or Socialist Appeal to affiliate to the LLA, he argued that “broad left” groups and trade unions “will not come” if we do. Well, conference disagreed, and here we are – LPM reps on the OG.

DLO was founded by three left groups: the Labour Representation Committee, Red Labour and Jewish Voice for Labour. When the LLA was on the drawing board in the summer of 2019, Labour Against the Witchhunt approached the same three groups. JVL declined to take part, while the LRC and Red Labour became founding organisations – but later withdrew. The LRC national executive committee’s explanation, in its October 26 statement, ‘Why the LRC is leaving the LLA’, was that the LLA was moving too fast. Presumably that does not apply to DLO, which describes itself as:

a broad left network launched on April 15 2020 after a period of disappointment and defeat for socialists in the Labour Party. Its aim is to restore hope to the many thousands of activists demoralised by the general election defeat in December 2019 and by setbacks for the left in the subsequent leadership and national executive committee polls.

Comparing the aims of the LLA with those of DLO, one is left wondering what the difference is, and why the LRC, Red Labour and JVL felt the need to set up a separate ‘left unity’ project. A clue is in the word “broad” – which evidently translates, in this case especially, as a warning that anyone resembling a genuine Marxist is unwelcome in DLO. I doubt I’ll be proved wrong.

The LLA’s ‘red lines’ for the selection of left candidates for Labour’s NEC are not very red. This reflects the omission of important items from the LLA’s political aims – omissions which ought to be put right at its August conference. At present there is no mention whatsoever of socialism, for example. “Opposition to capitalism” and to “the ecological destruction of the planet” were proposed by LPM comrades at the LLA’s founding conference, but voted down, as was “replacing capitalism with working class rule and socialism”.

Momentum

The omission of anti-capitalism and of socialism became evident when the OG discussed our position in relation to the elections to Momentum’s national coordinating group (NCG) – the LLA had sent a series of well chosen questions to NCG candidates, to see which ones might be supportable. After that discussion, the OG referred back to the steering committee a draft “minimum platform” for the LLA to back Labour NEC candidates, hopefully to add some socialism to it.

When it came to Momentum, the best answers came back from Red Flag’s Anticapitalist Platform, which said ‘yes’ to all of LLA’s test questions, and expanded well on each one. The only other candidate to give satisfactory answers was LLA signatory Syed Siddiqi.

OG members were, unsurprisingly, scathing in their criticism of Momentum, but expressed widely varying estimates as to the likelihood that it can be democratised – from a 50:50 chance to zero. LPM had long ago written off Momentum (see Carla Roberts’ January 2017 post-coup article, ‘Reduced to a corpse’). We stood aside from Momentum’s NCG elections, since – as our April 2018 statement, ‘NCG elections: no vote’, makes clear – Momentum was already a “dead duck”.

So the LPM fraction in the OG voted against the LLA “encouraging” people to vote in the current Momentum NCG elections, and against endorsing any candidates, on the basis of not lending the organisation credibility. However, on reflection, and especially having listened to criticisms from the CPGB’s Provisional Central Committee, we have reconsidered our position. We see little point in standing ourselves, but we will support leftwing candidates who do. There remain disagreements within LPM’s fraction on the OG. Of course, they concern only matters of tactics. Our differences are entirely secondary, but we shall argue them out, openly if necessary.

There are those on the right in the LLA who believe Momentum is reformable. It is welcome then, that on this issue at least, we find ourselves with the majority (see LLA’s excellent ‘Can Momentum be reformed?’ online document).

Either way, vote for principled leftwing candidates in Momentum, but do so with no illusions in Momentum.

Can Momentum be reformed?

There are now more reform groups in Momentum than owners. But, asks Carla Roberts, can they succeed?

We must admit that, from the outset, trying to reform Momentum in any meaningful way looks to us very much like the kind of punishment we can safely leave to King Sisyphus. It is a huge task, destined to fail.

Having said that, Jon Lansman, owner of Momentum, is clearly displaying signs of having come under some kind of pressure somewhere. His attempt to get rid of Tom Watson with a motion on Labour’s national executive committee (that he then withdrew), for example, was probably a sign that he is trying to pose left. We write ‘probably’, because the man has done so many weird things that we cannot always guess his motivation without going down to psychological levels. (Pride of place takes his embarrassing campaign last year to become general secretary of the Labour Party – against Jennie Formby, who was favoured by not just the mighty Unite union, but also Jeremy Corbyn himself. And when he withdrew, Lansman claimed that his only motivation in standing was “to increase the gender balance” – oddly enough, by standing against a woman!).

In any case, we have recently seen three attempts to make Momentum more democratic.

Starting with the least serious one, in June we spotted an article on the website Red Flag (which is where the dwindling remnants of Workers Power have gone to die). Jeremy Dewar wrote that “up and down the country Momentum groups are the backbone of the leftwing membership; organising campaigns, turning out for elections, taking control of local parties and turning them outwards”. The article argued that those super-active Momentum members should fight “for a sovereign conference”. This article is still doing the rounds on Facebook, somewhat bizarrely in our view.

Then, in July this year, a small group of people around Pat Byrne launched their ‘Call for membership control of Momentum’. They at least take note of a few recent qualitative changes within the organisation, like Jon Lansman’s witch-hunting campaigns against Chris Williamson MP and Pete Willsman. However, the comrades are more than naive in their assumption that “Momentum does not belong to Jon Lansman, but to all of its members!” This surely is the main thing that everybody does know about Momentum: it actually does belong to Lansman! Literally! He has tight control over the various companies that control the data and the income.

While Byrne and his comrades admit that Momentum’s constitution “is certainly very centralised”, they believe that its members should make use of the very limited democratic space within it: they should stand for the biennial elections to its national coordinating group (NCG), use the “many avenues in social media for reaching the membership” and get involved in the “the local Momentum groups”.

Their main focus though is on the “procedures for petitions” and “constitutional amendments” that members should make full use of. However, they fail to remind their readers that those petitions and amendments to the constitution require the support of at least “5% of members or 1,000 members”! And if there is no majority on the NCG in support of such a proposal, it then needs “a petition signed by 10% of the membership” in order to “trigger a vote among all members”. This is never going to happen.

In our view, both these proposals come well over two and half years too late. Back then, Jon Lansman stopped “a sovereign conference” from taking place, abolished all existing structures and imposed his undemocratic constitution on the organisation: the Lansman coup of January 10 2017. There are no structures, no avenues left to even fight for a “sovereign conference”. And there remain hardly any functioning Momentum branches. Many groups split in the aftermath of the imposed constitution, others dwindled and died a slow death and some of the few remaining branches have affiliated to the Labour Left Alliance or are in the process of doing so.

Momentum 4 Corbyn

At least the newly established ‘Momentum 4 Corbyn’ does not bother with such illusions – though that is the best thing we can say about it. We understand that the main people behind this campaign, which went public on October 3, are three Momentum NCG members, Barry Gray (who is also acting secretary of Campaign for Labour Party Democracy and a member of the Socialist Action sect), Liz Smith and Christine “fuck the unions” Shawcroft. Shawcroft, remember, went along with the Lansman coup and, when she was still a member of Labour’s NEC, voted to refer Jackie Walker to Labour’s national constitutional committee for expulsion.

On its website, Momentum 4 Corbyn identifies Momentum’s main problem as follows:

Momentum was set up in 2015 in order to support the agenda of Jeremy Corbyn. It is the continuation of Jeremy’s leadership campaign, which resulted in him being elected Labour leader in September 2015 and re-elected in September 2016. Unfortunately Momentum is now diverging from its original purpose; on some issues it fails to support the Labour leadership and on others it even opposes the leadership.

The group’s mission statement praises Corbyn like the second coming of the messiah: “Jeremy is putting forward a truly radical transformative agenda for a Labour government that will make people better off”, etc, etc. Momentum must “return to its original role as a supportive defender of the political agenda that Jeremy Corbyn is advancing”. The comrades want to (re)build a Corbyn fan club, in other words. To that effect, they put forward a long list of ‘evidence’ to prove where “Momentum” (they never mention Lansman) has strayed from Corbyn’s holy script.

To their credit, they do mention the witch-hunt in the Labour Party, though only in the shape of the direct attacks on Jeremy Corbyn. “Momentum appears to give credence to the exaggerated claims made by Labour’s political opponents, conveying a distorted picture of the real situation.” But, you see, “Jeremy is a supporter of international social justice, including Palestinian human rights. There is nothing remotely anti-Semitic in his opposition to the violence inflicted on the Palestinians.”

But what about Jackie Walker, Marc Wadsworth, Chris Williamson or even the CLPD’s Pete Willsman, who remains suspended on bullshit charges? They do not even mention those comrades: it is all about the leader.

Momentum 4 Corbyn does not seem to grasp the simple fact that Corbyn has been complicit in this witch-hunt all along. Not only has he watched silently as comrades Walker, Wadsworth, Willsman and now Chris Williamson have been thrown to the wolves by the NEC. He has legitimised the whole witch-hunt by agreeing with the right in and outside the party that there is a huge problem with anti-Semitism in the Labour Party. By asking Shami Chakrabarti to produce a report, he first opened the doors and showed how vulnerable he is to the witch-hunt – and he has since presided over one climbdown after another.

Corbyn fan club

This underlines that a Corbyn fan club is, at best useless. At worst, it perpetuates the witch-hunt and makes matters for the left (and Corbyn) considerably worse. We desperately need a Labour left that can openly and publicly challenge Corbyn and exert pressure on him from the left. This is, of course, not what Lansman is doing – he has joined those pressurising Corbyn from the right.

Some might say that it is lucky then that the way Gray, Smith and Shawcroft are going about their campaign means it is unlikely to succeed. Their only strategy consists of putting forward candidates to the November NCG elections who “consistently campaign for Jeremy and his politics, not for any alternative agenda”. No names have been published yet, but we believe the NCG three are about to present some very soon (though if a general election is called “by the end of October”, Momentum’s NCG elections will be postponed until next year).

This is exactly the discredited method of the so-called ‘Centre-Left Grassroots Alliance’ (which, if it has not already imploded, will surely do so now). Until recently, this is where soft-left Labour groups, including the CLPD and Momentum, got together to haggle over which centre-left candidates they should urge their members to vote for. The rightwing NEC member, Ann Black, was on the CLGA slate for decades.

It is therefore not surprising that this group has almost nothing to say, when it comes to “internal democracy”, apart from voting for its recommended NCG candidates. All power to the NCG, basically. However, only 20 of the 34 seats on this body are actually elected by members. The rest are made up of:

  • four Momentum members who are Labour public officer holders;
  • six members nominated by affiliated trade unions;
  • four members nominated by other affiliated organisations.

Jon Lansman has made sure that the NCG will never be able to decide on any democratic changes (unless he wants it to). Any changes have to be made by a unanimous vote on that body. A proposal brought by an NCG member that is rejected even by one other person on the NCG will also have to be supported by “10% of the membership”. Then there is the next hurdle: Lansman is in full control of that database and can (and obviously has done so) manipulate elections as he pleases.

In June 2019, Momentum members were asked to participate in a ‘democracy ballot’ to make “Momentum more members-led” and “improve accountability”. There were three concrete proposals “coming from the national coordinating group meeting in March”: one to decrease democracy by having elections to the NCG every two years instead of annually; the second to expand the number of people elected onto the NCG from 12 to 20; and the third to increase the number of regions from three to five. Thrilling stuff.

An embarrassingly measly 357 people bothered to vote 1)Email from Momentum, June 21, 9am – and, as Momentum never takes anybody off their database, we know this poll was literally sent to tens of thousands of people, including many who had long stopped making payments to the organisation.

As the proposal to move to biennial elections was not approved by the NCG unanimously (but opposed by Gray, Smith and Shawcroft and a couple of others), it had again to be sent to everybody on the database. This time, in September 2019, the number of participants magically rose to 4,150. It took a staggering four months to make a decision on a couple of nonsense proposals that could be summed up in five short words: an absolute waste of time.

Momentum 4 Corbyn complains – now! – that “the conduct of the ballot itself raises questions about democracy in Momentum, as only an argument in favour of this measure to reduce democracy was presented to members, and the proposal was falsely dressed up as a ‘democratising’ proposal. No alternative view was circulated to Momentum members by the NCG.”

Fair enough, but why did these NCG rebels not come out publicly at the time? Where are their reports of the NCG meetings they have been attending for years? Where is their public criticism? Where is the transparency in their campaign? How can Momentum members actually get involved? They cannot, obviously – apart from voting for the NCG members chosen by Barry Gray and co. A democracy campaign utterly devoid of any democracy, in other words.

And what is their solution to the lack of democracy in Momentum elections? Fasten your seatbelts. We can read in the July NCG minutes that Barry Gray wanted the Electoral Reform Service to run internal Momentum elections instead. The idea was rejected by the NCG by seven votes to five.

Reformed?

Momentum certainly filled a political vacuum when it was launched just after Jeremy Corbyn won the leadership elections in 2015. It attracted not just the young, relatively inexperienced crowd who became caught up in the Corbynmania, but also many of the seasoned Labour left activists who had been re-energised by the victory of a self-declared socialist. At its height, Momentum claimed to have 35,000 paying members (and a database of many more tens of thousands). This figure might or might not be based on fact, but we can be certain it is a lot lower now. Not that it is something Jon Lansman – founder, owner and all-round puppetmaster of Momentum – would openly publish.

We can glean from the accounts submitted for Momentum Campaign Ltd that the company claims to have had £145,659 in its various bank accounts at the end of December 2018, which is about £6,000 more than the year before. It also claims to have 21 employees, but, as it has paid a measly £19,205 in “taxation and social security” combined, we do not think many of them can be earning much (the figure stood at just over £42,000 the year before). You cannot actually work out how much in membership fees the organisation has received. But we do know that thousands, if not tens of thousands, have left Momentum.

Lansman has to be held personally responsible for this wasted opportunity. But in our view, that ship has now sailed. Sure, Momentum’s various bits of software and the huge database might still come in handy in a general election campaign. But the left should not waste any more time trying to rescue or reform this shell of a an organisation.

We believe that the nascent Labour Left Alliance is far more likely to have caused some of Jon Lansman’s recent, pseudo-left poses. Over 1,500 people have now signed up to the campaign, as have more than 20 Labour left groups and four Momentum branches. Clearly, building a viable, democratic and transparent Labour left is the best way to challenge and overcome anti-democratic left wannabe dictators like Jon Lansman.

References

References
1 Email from Momentum, June 21, 9am

Jewish Labour Movement: In praise of Momentum

(our picture shows Momentum’s Navendu Mishra posing with the JLM outside a protest against a David Icke event)

The Jewish Labour Movement has recognised Jon Lansman’s ‘valuable work’ in support of Zionism, reports Carla Roberts

Reports of the AGM of the Jewish Labour Movement have been splashed all over the bourgeois media, because it voted “almost unanimously” for a motion stating that “the leadership of the Labour Party have demonstrated that they are anti-Semitic and have presided over a culture of anti- Semitism”; that “Jeremy Corbyn is unfit to be prime minister and that a Labour government led by him would not be in the interest of British Jews”; and that therefore the JLM has “no confidence” in Corbyn.

So far, so predictable. Gathered in the JLM are, after all, some of the most vile rightwingers who have been plotting against Jeremy Corbyn from day one – ie, long before the smear campaign to equate anti-Zionism with anti-Semitism really took off. You would have thought that this campaign – which has proven so incredibly successful since then and has led to the suspensions and expulsions of thousands of Corbyn supporters – would have led to a massive influx into the JLM.

But we read that in “the closest vote of the day” a mere 148 people took part. And apparently that is not down to huge numbers of abstentions, as elsewhere an attendance of 160 has been reported. Now remember, you do not have to be Jewish or a Labour Party member to join the JLM – for example, Gordon Brown recently signed up. He thought it would be a good idea to join his former nemesis, Tony Blair, and engage in a bit of anti-Corbyn propaganda just before the local elections. He ‘stars’ in a video produced by Hope Not Hate – or ‘No Hope, Hate Corbyn’ as it should henceforth be known. In the video, Brown claims that “the Labour Party has let the Jewish community and itself down. They should never have allowed legitimate criticism, that I share, of the current Israeli government to act as a cover for the demonisation of the entire Jewish people.” Who exactly is ‘demonising’ the entire Jewish population, Gordon?

Anyway, on this basis, 160 members coming to an AGM is, to put it mildly, pathetic. This organisation claims to be “the” voice of Jewish members in the Labour Party. Clearly it is not. Jewish Voice for Labour should reconsider its policy of not publishing its membership figures, because it would quite clearly and easily trump this hands down.

This “closest vote of the day” does affect the JVL, as it happens. And it makes for interesting reading. The main motion (besides expressing no confidence in Corbyn) concerned itself, naturally, with anti-Semitism. After all, that is the main reason why the JLM, which was pretty inactive for a number of years, relaunched in 2015 with the expressed aim of harming Jeremy Corbyn, as the award-winning Electronic Intifada has uncovered.

This main motion contained a sentence that charged Momentum, the Campaign for Labour Party Democracy and the Labour Representation Committee as having “acted … to protect and support those engaging in anti-Semitism”. This displays a considerable lack of actual knowledge when it comes to the left of the party. The CLPD has been shamefully quiet on the witch-hunt against Corbyn supporters.

As for Momentum – or, more precisely, its owner, Jon Lansman – it has been playing a very active role … on the side of the witch-hunters: as soon as Jackie Walker was first suspended from the party (over charges that were later dropped because they were so flimsy), Lansman immediately moved to have her removed as vice-chair of Momentum – with the help of the pro-Zionist Alliance for Workers’ Liberty, who were in turn booted out during his coup of January 10 2017.

He then turned on his long-term comrade in the CLPD, Pete Willsman, when he was accused of being soft on anti-Semitism, removing him from the Momentum-endorsed list of candidates for Labour’s national executive committee (Willsman was re-elected nevertheless).

When Chris Williamson MP was suspended for stating that the party had “apologised too much” over the charge of anti-Semitism, Lansman did not say a word in his defence – but a day later publicised and spread a letter, in which Labour Party members “sincerely apologise to the Jewish community over our collective failure on the issue”, using similar vocabulary to that of Chris Williamson, but, of course, stating the opposite. In other words, it is a vile, scabbing letter. And that is the role that Jon Lansman has been playing for some time: he is a scab who is not just happy to throw Corbyn supporters to the wolves, but is actively undermining Jeremy Corbyn himself.

The majority at the JLM AGM, however, seems to have recognised that, in fact, Momentum is not the enemy any longer and that Jon Lansman has been acting like a witch-finder general. An amendment was moved to delete Momentum from the list of organisations said to be ‘protecting’ and ‘supporting’ anti-Semites – and replace it with Jewish Voice for Labour. That does indeed make a lot more sense.

The amendment also added a sentence, praising Lansman’s good work: “… Momentum has, for the last year, committed itself to tackling anti-Semitism within the Labour Party and wider society, through educational videos directed at Labour Party members, calling out and reporting anti-Semitic posts online, and joining JLM and other groups in protest against the likes of David Icke and Gilad Atzmon.”

Indeed it has. The mover could have added plenty of other examples of Momentum – just like the JLM – propagating and fostering the lie that Labour is overrun with anti-Semites. Not everybody in the room was convinced – too deep-seated is their hatred of what they conceive to be the left, no doubt. But 81 voted in favour of the amendment, while 67 were against.

Did the latter figure include Ruth Smeeth MP, who replaces Luciana Berger as national parliamentary chair of the JLM? After all, just after the AGM she claimed on Sky News that Jeremy Corbyn was, in fact, “responsible for anti-Semitism inside and outside of the party” (my emphasis).
Last but not least, the AGM also saw the return of Ella Rose, who quietly disappeared after the Al Jazeera documentary The lobby exposed how closely she was working with Shai Masot – “the senior political officer at the centre of the Israeli embassy’s covert efforts to influence British politics in an even more pro-Israel direction”, as the Electronic Intifada reported. In the documentary, she is heard angrily talking about how her previous employment at the Israeli embassy had been publicised: “Anti-Semites, the lot of them”, she fumes. Masot, incidentally, talks about Jackie Walker, whom he calls “problematic”, indicating she was on the Israeli government’s radar. Asked by the Al Jazeera undercover reporter what can be done about Jackie Walker, Masot responds: “Do not let it go.”

At the AGM, Ella Rose was elected unopposed as “JLM network officer” – no prizes for guessing who she might be networking with. But the main question that springs to mind is: why on earth is this rightwing outfit allowed to remain a Labour Party affiliate?

Momentum: No politics, please

The July 15 ‘Momentum national conference’ will be a very special one, reports Carla Roberts: no motions, elections or decision-making of any kind

Labour Party Marxists is very much looking forward to the “Momentum national conference” on July 15 in Durham. We have prepared motions on how to transform the Labour Party, will be fielding a couple of candi-dates in the elections to the national coordinating group and are making preparations to intervene in the open and frank policy discussions that will determine Momentum’s campaigning priorities in the next 12 months.

Sorry, I’m only pulling your leg. Momentum conferences are rather more special than the tedious events of the past, where delegates sat around all day, talked, argued and – you know – made decisions. Bo-ring. We can leave all of those things safely in the hands of Jon Lansman, the founder, owner and self-crowned king of Momentum.

There will be no motions, no position papers, no elections and certainly no decisions taken in Durham. The Momentum website also describes the event (rather more honestly) as a “summer gathering” and that about sums it up. It has three aims: to help participants “get skilled up” by attending “training sessions”; “get to know other Momentum supporters”; and “celebrate everything we’ve achieved”. And that is all in terms of public information on the event. There is not even a timetable or a speakers list available. As if to underline how unimportant this ‘conference’ really is, just look at the date: it actually takes place on the same day as the football World Cup final (kick-off 4pm).

No doubt, there will be dozens of young and keen Momentum interns handing out leaflets about the event to the 200,000 or so people participating in the annual Durham Miners Gala on the day before. And you might even get a couple of hundred people coming to next day’s event.

But it is, of course, not a conference. After all, just a few weeks before Momentum was to have its first, real conference in 2017 (with motions, elections and everything), Jon Lansman simply abolished it all at a stroke. During the now infamous Lansman coup of January 10 2017, he got rid of all national and regional decision-making structures in the organisation, cancelled the conference, imposed an undemocratic constitution and organisational structures, and installed himself as the unchallengeable leader of his little realm.

Many Momentum branches collapsed as a result of the coup or in the months following it. In other areas, rightwingers and councillors have begun to join and are now often dominating Momentum to make sure their career in the party is safe. The organisation’s database of well over 100,000 Corbyn supporters means that in some areas it can help swing election results by mobilising supporters to come out and campaign (or not). It also played a useful role at last year’s Labour Party conference when it got leftwing delegates to vote along broadly pro-Corbyn lines, by sending them text messages before important votes. But Jon Lansman will not allow Momentum to do more than that: members are simply seen as voting fodder, used to push through the decisions and policies that Jon Lansman wants to see implemented (which most of the time coincide with what Jeremy Corbyn wants).

For example, there is no doubt that the overwhelming majority of Corbyn supporters and Momentum members support the demand for mandatory reselection of parliamentary candidates. It is an eminently democratic, long-standing demand of the Labour left. A real, democratic conference of Momentum members (or delegates) would in all likelihood vote in favour of such a basic democratic measure – but it would put the organisation very quickly in direct confrontation with Jeremy Corbyn, who is stubbornly persisting in his misguided attempts to try and appease the Labour right.

Such a real democratic gathering of the Labour left might even make criticisms of Corbyn’s complicit silence, when it comes to the witch-hunt against his supporters in the party. In other words, a genuinely democratic organisation of Labour left members would actually put pressure on Corbyn to start behaving like the socialist they were hoping he was.

That is why Momentum will not go down that road. Instead, Jon Lansman decides its policies and shamelessly manipulates its “digital democracy platform” to get exactly the results he wants (as was the case when Labour Against the Witchhunt almost succeeded in submitting a ‘winning’ proposal to Momentum’s input to the Corbyn review).

Political debate and discussion in Momentum are far from being an integral, organic part of the organisation – they are merely tacked on as a way to recruit people. Which is probably also why, somewhat interestingly, Lansman feels the need to describe this July 15 event as a “conference”. There clearly is a huge democratic deficit – not just in society, but also in the Labour Party. People who have been inspired by what they believe Jeremy Corbyn stands for actually want to talk about politics and how to change society. So Jon Lansman throws them some rather pathetic scraps.

For now, he has succeed in outsourcing political discussion to training sessions and events like ‘The World Transformed’, where people can talk about anything and everything, without ever coming to any decisions that could threaten the position of Jon Lansman, or publicly criticise Jeremy Corbyn.

People, Pits and Politics

The People, Pits and Politics event is very much part of that apolitical culture. This two-day event takes place just before the Miners’ Gala. In general, it is a pretty nifty initiative to set up an educational political event prior to one of Europe’s biggest political gatherings (even if the vast majority of the visitors at the Durham Miners Gala are not necessarily Corbyn supporters or even interested in politics – it is very much a family day out with a huge fair and lots and lots of booze).

We read with great concern, however, the following paragraph in the long list of ‘terms and conditions’ for participants at People, Pits and Politics:

“No literature or other products may be sold or distributed, no flyers handed out or placed on seats, no papers sold, in any festival venues without prior written permission of the festival organisers. Breaking this rule will invalidate your ticket, and you will be asked to surrender your wristband and leave.”

This deeply sectarian move is clearly aimed at the organised left – sellers of Socialist Worker, The Socialist, etc, and those pesky Labour Party Marxists who ruin everybody’s fun by handing out their paper that talks about transforming the Labour Party. Yawn!

A political festival without political discussion, in other words. Well, that sounds very much like our Jon. And, while the event is kept quite separate from Momentum’s ‘conference’ (presumably in order to reach further in terms of its potential audience), it is very obvious that the speakers, organisers and political/organisational methods of both events will be pretty similar.

The main organiser of the PPP event is Jamie Driscoll. He is also the sole director of the limited company set up in January for the sole purpose of organising the event (another hint that Jon Lansman is involved – he just loves setting up, renaming and closing down companies, as a quick glance at Company House’s database shows).

Driscoll is author of a book called The way of the activist and founder of ‘Talk Socialism’, which organises training workshops and reading groups, particularly around Newcastle. He is also chair of Newcastle Momentum and in December 2016 organised “Momentum’s first regional conference” in the city. We believe  it was Momentum’s only regional conference to date, maybe because its main claim to fame was the fact that it was addressed by socialist stalwarts such as Nick Brown, Chi Onwurah, Emma Lewell-Buck and Ian Mearns. They are all local MPs, in case some of their names did not ring a bell.

At Momentum’s “inaugural conference” on March 25 2017 in Birmingham, Driscoll was one of those called upon by Lansman to run the various workshops. I am sure he and his comrades at Talk Socialism have the best intentions at heart and are seriously committed to changing society. But a problem arises when those types of ‘workshops’ of that type are used to substitute for proper political debate and decision-making. Here is how we reported about that particular ‘conference’, which will no doubt have been very similar to what comrades can expect in Durham:

Labour Party Marxists supporters attended workshops that were run by The World Transformed, Talk Socialism and even Hope Not Hate. They were clearly based on ‘training sessions’ that these organisations run on a relatively frequent basis – utterly devoid of any real politics, focusing only on ‘method’ and run by young, overly eager people who reminded me of Duracell bunnies.

They included icebreakers like telling the person sitting next to you what you had for breakfast, shouting “one-word answers” about what you liked or disliked about the European Union ‘leave’ or ‘remain’ campaigns and writing “objectives” on paper plates, then sticking post-it notes onto a flipchart grid. You get the drift. It was really, really grim. Worst of all – any of these workshops could just as easily have been presented to Progress or Labour First.

Having said all of that, Driscoll does not seem to be a mere Lansman stooge. He signed an open letter against the expulsion from the Labour Party of Ella Thorp, a supporter of the Alliance of Workers’ Liberty. According to Lansman’s Momentum constitution, that also bars her from Momentum membership.

That is another decision that would probably be quickly overturned at any real, democratic conference of Momentum members.

Momentum NCG elections: no vote

A call from Labour Party Marxists

Momentum’s National Coordinating Group (NCG) has agreed a statement on anti-Semitism, which, while not available on its website, seems to be very much in keeping with Jon Lansman’s comments on the issue. This does not come as much of a surprise. He is, after all, the owner of Momentum. So we read in The Guardian that the statement condemns “anti-Jewish bias”, which is apparently “more widespread in the Labour Party than many of us had understood even a few months ago”. Obviously, this had nothing to do at all with the increased attacks by the right on the party on this issue.

We read that Lansman is working with “external groups” on developing anti-Semitism awareness training for Labour members. Judging by his uncritical description of the March 26 anti-Corbyn rally, ‘Enough is Enough’, on Radio 4 as an “anti-racist rally” and a “demonstration on anti-Semitism”, 1)Today Radio 4, April 3 (www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b09xcsdb we fear that he has not just the pro-Zionist Jewish Labour Movement in mind (which would be bad enough), but might well be in touch with some even more ‘mainstream’ forces like the Board of Deputies or the Jewish Leadership Council.

This sad story underlines why we will not be advocating a vote in the forthcoming NCG elections. Firstly, it is an entirely useless body, designed by Lansman and imposed on the organisation with the constitution he wrote in the wake of his coup of January 10, 2017 in which he abolished all democratic national and regional structures in the organisation. It is there to rubber-stamp whatever Lansman wants it to do.

Secondly, most of the candidates are utterly useless. The Alliance for Workers’ Liberty is putting forward some of their members and supporters, including three who have been on the NCC for the last 12 months. There is a chance that Sahaya James and Rida Vaquas actually support Lansman’s NCG statement – after all, they are supporters of the social-imperialist organisation that portrays pretty much the entire left as anti-Semitic, with AWL leaders actually describing themselves as “Zionists”.

 

References

References
1 Today Radio 4, April 3 (www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b09xcsdb