Category Archives: Momentum

NEC elections: Good, but…

The mood music in the mainstream press was always that the Momentum- supported candidates in the elections for Labour’s National Executive Committee were a virtual shoe-in. This is good for the left as a whole – which is why LPM recommended a critical, but unconditional vote for the Momentum team of Jon Lansman (pictured), Yasmine Dar and Rachel Garnham.

It’s a clean sweep for the trio, with Dar collecting 68,388 votes; Garnham 62,982 and Lansman 65,163. The closest rightest was comedian Eddie Izard, with 39,908 – boosted no doubt by his celebrity status and apolitical ‘naive nice guy’ unity mongering (in reality, of course, he is firmly on the right of the party).

This Momentum victory underscores (again) the new reality of today’s Labour Party and will install a stable left majority on the party’s leadership. The new mass membership is miles to the left of the Parliamentary Labour Party and the ‘old guard’: in any clean electoral contest, we will wipe the floor with the right. Which is why they fight so dirty, of course.

The political hygiene of the right need not detain us long; as some of our more angular LPM comrades have summarised it, it’s clear they have the morality of “shithouse rats”. Our problem is that the left is rather less than squeaky clean itself.

As we have reported, there have been serious issues with the lack of transparency in how this Momentum NEC team was chosen: On October 2, all Momentum members were invited to submit their application for the three seats. And by October 9, the lucky three had already been selected: Members were informed that a total of 48 applications were received, which were examined by “a panel of [national coordinating group] officers”, who then “interviewed seven candidates”, before settling on four that are now being sent “for recommendation to the Centre Left Grassroots Alliance (CLGA)”. All within four days.

According to the Huffington Post, “it is understood that Lansman was the popular choice among many.” Popular among whom? Maybe the people working in Momentum’s office, being on Jon Lansman’s payroll and all that …’  A meme was quickly doing the rounds, showing as first “criterium” on the application form the question: ‘Are you called Jon?’

Add to that the ugly amalgam nature of the CLGA itself – essentially a bureaucratic lash up with right-leaning candidates – and what we saw is a continuation of the method on display in the way the organisation is run by its ‘owner’, Lansman. Almost exactly a year ago, during the now infamous ‘Lansman coup’, he simply shut down all democratic structures of Momentum and imposed his own constitution on the organisation without any debate or transparency. The latest example of his undemocratic approach is the high-handed way in which the man has just announced the dissolution of Momentum Youth and Students.

Naturally, there was no transparency on this last bureaucratic move. No announcement on the Momentum website; the letter from Lansman himself announcing the organisation’s abrupt demise simply tells us that the “Momentum’s Constitution does not specifically provide for the continuation of the entity previously known as ‘Momentum Youth and Students (MYS)’” and that he notes, “with regret”, that some of these young scamps have “at times… brought Momentum into disrepute” with some silly baiting of opponents and intemperate language.

The veteran US comedian George Burns once lamented the death of Vaudeville as, now, there was “nowhere for the kids to be lousy anymore.” Problems in a youth organisation should be treated in the same patient and generous style. It is indicative of the bureaucratic mindset of Lansman and the coterie around him – as well as a quite unseemly appetite for respectability and fear of political debate – that their weapon of first choice are bans and proscriptions.

This underlines that we must offer critical support to the leftwing NEC majority from a position of political independence. We still have a long way to go to transform the party. For example, we cannot rely on Jon Lansman to fight against the ongoing witchhunt against the left in the party. After all, his own Momentum constitution bars from membership anybody who has been expelled by Iain McNicol’s compliance unit – for example, for the crime of “supporting a political organisation other than an official Labour Group or unit of the Party”. All the more important that organisations like Labour Against the Witchhunt continue to put pressure not just on the right and the bureaucracy of the Labour Party – but also Jeremy Corbyn and his allies on the NEC.

NEC elections: Grit your teeth and vote for Jon Lansman!

Ballot forms for the three additional places on Labour’s National Executive Committee began to be distributed yesterday. The left on this leadership body was recently strengthened with the election of the pro-Corbyn Richard Leonard as leader of the party in Scotland (the expectation is that he will probably personally fill the Scottish NEC seat created in the aftermath of the party’s 2016 conference – or, if not, at least appoint a delegate supportive of the left leadership.) The election for these extra three seats, to be decided by an all-member vote, is an important opportunity to consolidate this progressive shift on the leadership and give it a slightly more comfortable majority.

For this reason, Labour Party Marxists recommends an unconditional, but highly critical vote for the slate supported by the Centre-Left Grassroots Alliance, Momentum and the Campaign for Labour Party Democracy including a vote for Jon Lansman, the controversial ‘owner’ of the Momentum brand. It is not surprising that for some on the left, support for Lansman is hard. The pattern of nominations from the CLPs clearly shows some left comrades taking a vicarious revenge for the crass internal coup that Lansman and his close allies launched in January 2017. That, coupled with the ugly amalgam nature of the CLGA itself – essentially a lash up with right-leaning candidates – further muddies the water. (There are supporters of Manchester councillor Yasmine Dar and national policy forum representative Rachel Garnham who might well have their own reasons for not putting a tick next to Lansman’s name) there were obviously some squeaky-bum moments in in the pro-Lansman camp that have put the man’s election in some doubt.

Interestingly, the joint CLGA/Momentum/CLPD campaigning website for the NEC elections unusually enquires if supporters had voted for “the full team (Yasmine, Rachel and Jon)” or just “part of the team”. They are clearly aware of the fact that quite a few members cannot bring themselves to vote for Lansman (but the CLGA/Momentum/CLPD still wants to record them as supporters and be able to harvest their data).

We hear of lefties even agitating for a vote for Sarah Taylor instead of Jon Lansman; she is a disability campaigner and Momentum member, but without much of a profile in the party. She picked up just six nominations from Constituency Labour Parties against Lansman’s 148. It’s unlikely she would win; but she could split the vote sufficiently to allow a rightist like Eddy Izzard slip in through the middle.

No doubt, the political hostility to Lansman specifically is well-founded, given the shameful manoeuvres in Momentum. However, that must be put aside for this election. Lansman is a leading figure on the left of the party. He shares many of the flawed politics and bureaucratic practice of the wing of our party. LPM will not let-up in our political criticisms of the man anymore than we will stop criticising Corbyn and McDonnell themselves. However, in this election he and the platform he is part of should be critically supported in order that our leadership is more safely in the hands of people who reflect the views and political aspiration of our mass, left wing membership.

If you can’t beat them…

The Labour Party right remain strong in terms of the grip its tentacles continue to have on the apparatus/’civil service’ of the party. However, there is no question that it has taken some devastating hits over the past period. Take, for example, the aforementioned election of Richard Leonard and its implications for the balance of power on the NEC.

Of course, it was the right wing which managed to sneak through the anti-democratic organisational innovation at last year’s party conference that led to the creation of two new NEC seats. These would be in the gift of the leaders of the party in Wales and Scotland; both then in the hands of right wingers, of course. Times do have a way of a-changing, however. Now, Scotland has gone ‘Corbynite’. There are rumblings from Wales as the membership’s outrage grows against the leadership’s contempt for basic democracy in elections for the leader and the new post of deputy leader. (And let’s not forget that the ‘registered supporters’ category that swung so powerfully behind Corbyn in the election contest/s was another wizard wheeze of the right.)

What’s a poor right winger to do?

Well, some seem to have reached the conclusion that ‘if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em!’

Reports reach us of hard-line rightist councillors pitching up at Momentum meetings; of local Momentum secretaries who, after much nagging, have finally been given lists of Momentum members in their area only to find – yes, you’ve guessed it – rightwing councillors and dyed-in-the-wool anti-left zealots listed as members.

At the same time, worrying news comes from Sheffield where the Momentum branch has voted – by 29 to 25 votes – to exclude from Momentum membership comrades that the witch hunters in the party have excluded on political grounds.

Are we seeing a creeping ‘domestication’ on Momentum? A process of incorporation and political dissolution? If any readers have noted an out-of-place face turning up out of the blue at your local Momentum meeting or right wing councillors beginning to tout themselves as Momentum supporters, let us know! And do call them out in meetings, because others should know who has snuck in.

Labour NEC stitch-up: Are you called Jon?

first published as a letter in the Weekly Worker

Just when I thought Momentum nationally had become a mere online presence (which tells its 30,000 members and vast number of supporters how to vote at conference and at election time, and constantly asks for money), I received an email asking me if I would “like to be considered to be a candidate” for one of the new additional posts created on Labour’s national executive committee.

The email dropped in my inbox on October 2 at 2.38pm, giving a deadline of “Wednesday October 4 at 12pm”. Not that I was seriously considering throwing my hat in the ring, but less than two days was clearly not a lot of time. But how interesting that Jon Lansman, who took away all decision-making powers from Momentum members in a coup in January this year, should engage in such a quasi-democratic exercise, I thought.

It was via the Huffington Post on October 9 that Momentum members were eventually informed of its outcome: Yes, Jon Lansman had been chosen by Momentum as an NEC candidate. A day later ‘Team Momentum’ managed to inform some (but not all) of its members how this decision was – apparently – made: a total of 48 applications were received, which were examined by “a panel of [national coordinating group] officers”, who then “interviewed seven candidates”, before settling on four that are now being sent “for recommendation to the Centre Left Grassroots Alliance (CLGA)”. All within four days.

The well-informed Huffington Post writes: “Momentum issued an email to members recently asking for nominations for its NEC ‘slate’ and it is understood that Lansman was the popular choice among many.” Was he now? And how exactly did that work? Popular among whom? The 48 who nominated themselves? Clearly not. There was no other way for Momentum members to make any nominations other than self-nominations or express any opinions on the matter. Maybe they mean ‘popular among the people working in Momentum’s office, being on Jon Lansman’s payroll and all that …’  A meme was quickly doing the rounds, showing as first “criterium” on the application form the question: ‘Are you called Jon?’ 

Some Momentum members might have actually believed that Lansman was serious about introducing ‘one member, one vote’ digital decision-making when he abolished all democratic structures and imposed his own constitution on the organisation back in January. And maybe he does occasionally feel the pressure to make it look as if Momentum is a democratic, members-led organisation. But, in reality, all this has only served to remind many on the left what an undemocratic shell of an organisation it really is.

As if to stress the point, Team Momentum sent out another email on October 10, this time to Derbyshire Momentum: the steering committee is informed that they are no longer allowed to use the Momentum name, because they were “no longer a verified group” (though members there have emails showing how they were in fact “recognised” a few months ago).

After the January coup, Lansman loyalists in Derby – unhappy with the critical positions adopted by what was until this week ‘Momentum Derbyshire’ – set up a second group in the area. But why this move now? To understand that, you need to look at the other three Momentum names being put forward to the CLGA: they include “Cecile Wright, vice chair of Momentum, a co-founder of the Labour Black Network and a professor of Sociology at Nottingham”. And, as it happens, a member of the Momentum group in Derby.

Cecile Wright was very happy to quickly step into the post of Momentum vice-chair after Lansman demoted Jackie Walker when she was suspended from the Labour Party on false charges of anti-Semitism. Cecile (with Christine Shawcroft) also took up posts as directors of the Momentum Campaign (Services) Ltd company on the day of the coup, January 10 2017. Of course, Lansman remains firmly in control of the most precious possession of Momentum: its vast database of over 300,000 Corbyn supporters.

This will make him almost a shoo-in for the NEC post. The CLGA list has never been chosen democratically and everything has undoubtedly been fixed a very long time ago – I predict that both Lansman and Wright will be on it!

Needless to say, as a Marxist in the Labour Party, I am less than happy with this process – not to mention the selection of Lansman himself. Not only has he made his disdain for any kind of democratic decision-making absolutely clear. But, worse, in the current civil war in the Labour Party, he has chosen to side with all those who maliciously label any criticism of Israel ‘anti-Semitic’.

He has thrown Jackie Walker under the bus, has called on Ken Livingstone to resign and is one of the main people behind the party’s new poisonous ‘compromise’ formulation on anti-Semitism. He has joined Jeremy Corbyn in the mistaken belief that this might actually calm the saboteurs. But that is a dangerous illusion: the witch-hunters’ appetite clearly grows with the eating. Lansman might be a close ally of Jeremy Corbyn (for now). But he is a very poor choice for the NEC indeed.

Grassroots Momentum: Three-minute slots

David Shearer of Labour Party Marxists reports on a less than inspiring meeting

Around 120 comrades – including supporters of the Labour Representation Committee, Labour Party Marxists, Red Labour, Red Flag, The Clarion and Socialist Fight factions – attended the national meeting called by Grassroots Momentum on June 17. But what was its purpose? There were no motions or any kind of concrete proposals.

Towards the end of the meeting comrade Simon Hannah tried to explain this from the chair by stating that the event had originally been conceived as one where we could organise to defend the party leader following the expected heavy Labour defeat. But, of course, Labour had done far better than expected and for the moment the right is holding back on its anti-Corbyn offensive. So it seems the steering committee just could not think of a set of action proposals to put before us.

The reason for this partially lies in the origins of GR Momentum – comrades had been appalled by the refusal of Jon Lansman (following the orders of Jeremy Corbyn and John McDonnell no doubt) to contemplate any kind of membership democracy for Momentum, and this led to a rebellion by the majority of its steering committee and the formation of Grassroots Momentum. Everyone knew what they were against, but when it came to what they were for …

True, the SC issued a kind of wish list for the June 17 meeting: “… we, grassroots members of the Labour Party, must take back control from the right that still dominates the Parliamentary Labour Party and many of the party structures”. It reminded us that we are for the “abolition of the hated compliance unit” and that “Iain McNicol must be sacked”; we also want “a reversal of the expulsions and suspensions of all those who were penalised for their socialist beliefs”. But the nearest it came to something more concrete was: “We also need meetings of leftwing party members at local, regional and national level in a fully democratic framework … to coordinate the fight for a socialist Labour Party”.

In fact the SC majority is demanding: “The Labour Party must go into emergency election mode”, since another snap general election is more than possible and “Our aim is a leftwing Labour government”. But that call stood in sharp contrast to the demand that “the NEC urgently organises open parliamentary selection conferences by all members … rather than the imposition by the bureaucracy of mainly rightwing candidates”. Surely a party in “emergency election mode” – especially one under the control of a rightwing bureaucracy – would be expected to bypass democratic procedures, citing the urgency of the situation.

The meeting was divided into two sessions, entitled: ‘After May’s humiliation, prospects for a socialist Labour government’; and ‘Forward to a mass Labour left and a transformed party’. But after the opening speech from Matt Wrack, general secretary of the Fire Brigades Union, comrades were called randomly from the floor to offer their thoughts on whatever aspect they fancied in three-minute contributions.

While there were some useful exchanges, mostly it felt like a waste of time, since the format ensured that no decisions could be taken on anything. Obviously, motions should have been invited in advance, but, more than that, there should have been a process in place allowing each of the factions to move their own proposals, so that individual GR Momentum supporters might be able to judge the various options on offer.

‘Radical’

Understandably comrade Wrack devoted a small section of his speech to the Grenfell Tower tragedy, pointing out that fire safety inspectors had been reduced by two-thirds and the “red tape” that might hold back profits had been ditched.

Turning to the general election, he claimed that sections of the Labour right had gone into it “with the aim of losing”. They were ready immediately to call on Corbyn to resign following a bad result, but in the event Corbyn’s position was “pretty safe for the time being”. He stated that we now need a drive for democratisation and the selection of “working class, socialist candidates”.

He warned against those who think that under Corbyn “everything will be hunky-dory”. In fact Corbyn has been compromising with the right and, to prevent that, we need to “build a politically informed mass movement and Labour Party”.

Following this, the three-minute contributions began with the LRC’s Jackie Walker. The comrade said that at last, during the election campaign, class had “come back onto the agenda” – the prime example being “For the many, not the few” – the title of “the most radical manifesto I can remember”. She too wanted Labour to be put on “an election footing”, but without the “imposition of candidates”, who must be nominated by “open selection”.

I suppose, if the existing manifesto is so “radical”, in that case we can elect a “socialist Labour government” within a few months without first having to defeat the anti-Corbyn right. In reality, as The Clarion’s Rosie Woods stated, For the many, not the few was “very timid”. Marginally to the left of what was on offer under Ed Miliband in 2015, it can only be described as “radical” compared to what was proposed by Tony Blair.

Like many others the LRC’s Pete Firmin accepted that the Labour election manifesto was “not socialist”, but he too agreed that its contents were “radical” – in fact they were “just what we needed in that situation”. Incredibly a young member of the Socialist Workers Party stated we “have come so far in the last year” that now “we haven’t got so far to go”. Presumably she meant in order to achieve world socialism.

Comrade Hannah, speaking from the floor in the first session, was another who was still quite optimistic about the direction Corbyn and McDonnell are taking the party. After all, “The shadow chancellor has been placing demands on the TUC to come out in support of July 1”, when the People’s Assembly has called for a mass demonstration against the Tory government. However, while a Corbyn administration would be social democratic, not socialist, said comrade Hannah, it “would face economic sabotage” and opposition from the Labour right.

Daniel Morley of Socialist Appeal contended that the Corbyn leadership was “beginning the work of transforming Labour, in a confused, semi-conscious way”. But he warned that the ruling class could become reconciled to the Corbyn leadership – how do we combat that?

John Pickard thought that the Tories would “try to hang on” and there would not necessarily be another quick general election. The electorate will now have “much higher expectations”, but “not everyone is a Corbynista”, so our “best option” against the PLP right was not to demand another poll right now.

Tina Werkmann of LPM pointed out that Corbyn and McDonnell had to a large extent “collapsed”. Nevertheless, the ruling class “still won’t accept Corbynistas”. We need to “pull them to the left”, but our central aim must be to “transform the Labour Party”, she concluded.

‘On the streets’

Stuart King, of Left Unity, was the first speaker to use the term “mud wrestling” – the way he described the internal battle within the Labour Party. Defeating the Labour right was “not the most important” – rather we should follow John McDonnell’s advice and aim for “one million on the streets” for the July 1 demonstration, which should be linked to trade union struggles and the anti-cuts movement. As it was, the steering committee’s statement prepared for the meeting was “one-sided”, because it “concentrated only on the internal struggle”.

Nick Wrack, who reminded us he was one of those “still excluded” by the witch-hunt, responded that, while it was correct to want to “turn Labour outwards”, we must “not lose sight of the fact that we have to transform it from top to bottom”. If people were “engaged on the streets, not in Labour, the right will be happy”. He correctly pointed out, however, that what was “sorely lacking” was “a strategy” for such a transformation. He proposed later on that the steering committee should campaign for an “organisation for socialism in the Labour Party”. We “can’t simply talk about it and do nothing”.

But Dewi John was another who disparaged Labour Party work: “Where are the young activists here today?” he asked. “How can we mobilise them for deathly dull Labour meetings?” Another comrade thought that, while getting young people to join Labour might be “the worst thing we could do”, we do have to replace the right, which means that “mud wrestling is essential”. In the words of a disabled comrade: “Mud is there; the enemy is there. If you don’t wrestle them, they’ll drown you in it!”

Steve Forrest stated that we need to “educate young people in the ideas of socialism”. The idea must be to “turn them into Labour to fight against the machine” – how about re-establishing Labour Party Young Socialists? He stressed the need to stand by those unjustly suspended or expelled – although he remarked pertinently: “I haven’t heard much from Jeremy Corbyn against the witch-hunt”.

Sandy McBurney, of Glasgow Momentum, while agreeing that official Labour meetings are dull – often “intentionally”, he thought – insisted that we need to steer activists linked to Grassroots Momentum into the party. Aim to “build the mass movement and bring them in to defeat the right”.

The contribution of Terry Conway from Socialist Resistance was just about the worst of the lot. Instead of telling us all about her organisation’s support for a Labour-Green-Women’s Party-Health Action Party-Scottish National Party popular front, she stuck to what she knows best: complaining about the “awful” age, gender and race “imbalance” in the room. Her totally apolitical conclusion was that we are “not sharing best practice enough”. She later added that we “weren’t ambitious enough about this meeting” – we should have “marketed” it to people inspired by Corbyn. In other words, we should go for a rally and cut out the political debate.

Serious alternative

However, Jack Conrad of LPM thought we should “take this meeting more seriously”. The key question is not age, ethnicity or gender, but politics. We need to treat ourselves with “more self-respect”. On Labour’s programme, he said that it was “quite possible” that capital would not accept it, but we need to “look at the manifesto seriously”: it was a call to run capitalism in favour of “the many, not the few”. That “cannot be done”. Yes, we must defend Corbyn against the right, but we must not lose sight of the overriding interest of the working class – the winning of socialism. And that is what we need to organise around.

Graham Bash of the LRC also called on comrades not to “denigrate this meeting” – we “need to have this discussion”. However, he took a rather more positive attitude to the Labour manifesto than some others: “if implemented it would put Labour in conflict with the bourgeoisie”, which meant we now have the “prospect of a Labour government prepared to confront capital”. What is more, “the leadership doesn’t fear the movement: it wants it”.

Richard Gerard of Red Flag asked us to think about how we could replace the right and with what policies. He reminded us about the lack of democracy in official Momentum, which is “run by Jon Lansman and two other people”. The task was to organise the left in a democratic manner, ensuring full discussion.

Another victim of the witch-hunt, Gerry Downing of Socialist Fight, pointed out that if there was another general election we would still be “going into battle with an army led by those opposed to Corbyn” – we had to “get rid of the hostile bureaucracy”, he said. While he agreed that under Corbyn we had seen the “first breach of the neoliberal agenda”, he compared this to the reforms of the 1945 Labour government, which nevertheless “defended British imperialism”.

For his part, Mark Wadsworth from Grassroots Black Momentum identified himself as one of those falsely accused of anti-Semitism. He could not understand why Corbyn was “bending over backwards to bring back the right wing into the shadow cabinet”.

Mark Lewis of LPM said that there was a mood of conciliation amongst many Corbyn supporters. They seemed to agree with Tony Blair’s dictum that politics was “not about principle” – it was about “the best people”. He also reminded us of the words of another Tony – Tony Benn – who had remarked that the Labour Party “needs two wings to fly”. That was nonsense – we do not need the right.

In introducing the second session from the chair, comrade Hannah had urged us to “focus on the particular things we can do together” (he mentioned demonstrations, for example!). In response a comrade from Manchester called for the SC to set up a means of communication – on WhatsApp, for instance – where we could “prioritise ideas”.

Reacting to criticism about the general directionlessness of the meeting, comrade Hannah desperately tried to bring together some of the proposals raised from the floor into a makeshift motion (like supporting the July 1 demonstration!), but, when people objected to the idea of a catch-all motion suddenly being foisted upon us, he dropped the idea.

So we went away having to content ourselves with our three-minute contributions. While these did reveal some basic differences, it has to be said that the meeting took us nowhere. What is the role of Grassroots Momentum? Hopefully this pointless meeting will provoke some serious thought.

LPM’s submission to Grassroots Momentum gathering, June 17

Transform the Labour Party!

Socialists welcome and celebrate Labour’s strong electoral showing. But the fight against the right in the PLP and the Labour Party is not over, despite the current ‘truce’ declared by some of those who have stabbed Corbyn in the back only a few weeks ago.

We need a programme to transform the Labour Party into a real party of labour:

  1. Elected Labour representatives must be subject to OMOV mandatory selection. MPs must be brought under democratic control – from above, by the NEC; from below by the CLPs.
  1. We need a sovereign conference once again. The cumbersome, undemocratic and oppressive structures, especially those put in place under the Blair supremacy, must be rolled back. The Joint Policy Committee, the National Policy Forums, etc, must go.
  1. Scrap the compliance unit “and get back to the situation where people are automatically accepted for membership, unless there is a significant issue that comes up” (John McDonnell). The compliance unit operates in the murky shadows, it violates natural justice, it routinely leaks to the capitalist media.
  1. It is now impossible to transform Momentum into a democratic organisation that can educate, activate and empower the rank and file membership. So there is an urgent need for the left to organise with a view of establishing an alternative.
  1. Securing new trade union affiliates ought to be a top priority. The FBU has reaffiliated and we should fight for RMT, PCS and the NUT to follow suit.
  1. Every constituency, branch and Labour Party unit must be won and rebuilt. Our membership has grown to over 800,000. The left must convince the sea of new members, and returnees, to attend meetings … and break the stultifying grip of the right.
  1. Transform the Labour Party so that, in the words of Keir Hardie, it can “organise the working class into a great independent political power to fight for the coming of socialism”. To that end we need rule changes to once again permit left, communist and revolutionary parties to affiliate. As long as they do not stand against us in elections this can only strengthen us as a federal party. Today affiliate organisations include the Fabians, Christians on the left … and Labour Business. Allow the SWP, SPEW, CPGB, CPB, etc, to join our ranks.
  1. Being an MP ought to be an honour, not a career ladder. All our elected representatives should take only the average wage of a skilled worker of around £40,000 (plus legitimate expenses). They should hand the balance over to the party.
  1. Labour needs its own press, radio and TV.
  1. We should adopt a new clause four. Not a return to the old, 1918, version, but a commitment to working class rule and a society which aims for a stateless, classless, moneyless society which embodies the principle “from each according to their abilities, to each according to their needs”.

Cohering the Labour left

Carla Roberts of Labour Party Marxists reports on the first meeting of the Grassroots Momentum steering committee on April 22 in London

This was a surprisingly positive and constructive meeting. Surprising for a number of reasons. Firstly, the committee was elected exactly six weeks previously at Grassroots Momentum’s first, fractious conference on March 11. And if “a week is a long time in politics”, these six weeks certainly felt like an eternity. Not a single decision has been made and the only thing the majority of committee members had agreed on was to oppose the proposal to intervene at the Momentum ‘conference’ on March 25 with our own leaflet. The rest of the email communications were concerned with an argument over the length of our lunch break (30 minutes, since you ask) and if there should be a pooled fare system (no).

Secondly, Momentum itself is disappearing down the plughole with ever-increasing speed, which naturally has an impact on the left within it. Momentum meetings are becoming smaller and smaller. The demobilisation and depoliticisation of Momentum branches that followed Jon Lansman’s January 10 coup has become even worse in the last 10 days. As if most sensible people on the left weren’t disillusioned enough about Labour’s grim chances at the polls, they then received an email from Team Momentum telling them to stand down.

Yes, there are strict electoral rules and laws on election spending (as a bunch of Tory Party MPs has recently found). But to demand that Momentum branches effectively stop meeting in such a heightened political period – because “public meetings” could be seen as Labour Party campaigning – is adding to the sense of demoralisation. The right continues to fight dirty and with every trick they have, but Momentum is concerned about sticking to the letter of the law. Another trap Corbyn has stepped into, unfortunately.

Thirdly, the GM steering committee is made up of a lot of people who – how to put this nicely – really hate each others’ guts. The Alliance for Workers’ Liberty (which has six members and supporters on the SC) have played a deeply disgusting role in the entirely fabricated ‘anti-Semitism scandal’ in the Labour Party, joining into the witch-hunt of Ken Livingstone and, of course, Jackie Walker, who also sits on the GM committee (and also has about half a dozen allies there).

Considering all these factors, I expected a rather fractious, ill-tempered meeting with very little outcome. But I guess we can thank Theresa May for focusing our minds. The snap election, plus the fact that Momentum is playing dead, have actually opened up a space on the left of the Labour Party.

Under the experienced chairmanship of Matt Wrack (leader of the Fire Brigade’s Union), the meeting started with a frank and open assessment of the current situation and the general election. There was a healthy sense of realism evident. Everybody in the room agreed that Labour’s chances of winning the election were pretty slim. To the committee’s credit, nobody voiced the moronic idea peddled by the likes of the Socialist Workers Party and the Socialist Party that Theresa May has called this election because of a weakness of the Tory Party. Matt Wrack for example admitted to being “quite demoralised when I heard about the election”, because clearly Theresa May has called it for one reason and one reason alone: to crush the Labour Party and increase the Tory majority, aided by the entire media establishment.

Speaker after speaker bemoaned the fact that the right wing in the Labour Party continues with its assault on Corbyn and his leadership. Worse, Corbyn continues to let them to get away with it in the vague hope of ‘party unity’. Clearly, the right has not signed up to any truce, as can be witnessed by the dozen or so MPs who have said they would rather not stand again than run under a Corbyn leadership.

John Woodcock MP took the biscuit when he pronounced that he “will not countenance ever voting to make Jeremy Corbyn Britain’s prime minister”.4 In our view, Woodcock should be expelled, along with Tom Watson, Ian McNicol and, of course, good old Tony Blair. Blair has come out the woodwork to call for a “tactical” vote against Labour Party candidates who support Brexit – an offence that would have seen a left-winger expelled immediately by the NEC’s rigged compliance unit. But instead of cleansing the party of its saboteurs, the NEC has decided to prevent Labour Party members from having any say over the choosing of parliamentary candidates – which is of course part of the civil war against the left.

Graham Bash (a member of the Labour Representation Committee) was perhaps the most ‘officially optimistic’ speaker on the day. He thought that “we need to fight to win and we need to give a really positive message. We should say that we can win against the odds. We should not spread demoralisation and fear. Because the cost of failure will be huge and the left will face a carnival of reaction.”

True, of course, it would be pointless to start any fight in order to lose. But other speakers pointed to the fact that “demoralisation” will be equally widespread (or worse) if we pretend that we, for example, just need to point to Corbyn’s “10 pledges” (as committee member Jan Pollock suggested) and hope that it will win Labour the elections. Because it will not.

Most on the steering committee thought that the Labour Party would manage to close the current gap in the polls somewhat come June 8 (difficult not to), but that the Tories would very likely win. Which would of course lead to the next leadership challenge, probably fronted by Yvette Cooper, who has done nothing to dispel those rumours. In this situation, “we must convince Corbyn not to give in, not to step down, but hold on and continue to fight to transform the Labour Party”, said Matt Wrack, to the visible agreement of the meeting.

“Any candidate who is not Corbyn or McDonnell will be a defeat for the left”, comrade Wrack added – though some people later questioned if McDonnell really is still a reliable ally. There aren’t just his various U-turns and cringing apologies – some in the room also have not forgiven him for breaking his promise to send a video message to GM’s launch conference. Clearly, that hope was a bit naive. After all, the Corbyn team (which includes McDonnell) had sanctioned the Lansman coup. Why would he then support an organisation that was founded in opposition to that coup? My guess is that McDonnell nodded his head politely when the request was put to him, but never intended to fulfil it.

In any case, most seemed agreed on the need to continue to support Corbyn and McDonnell when they’re being attacked – but to criticise them when they are attacking socialist principles or continuing to try and appease the Labour right.

The meeting went on to decide a couple of concrete actions:

1. GM will publish a weekly email and launch a website, which will “do what Momentum does not do”, as one speaker put it. The intention is, for example, to publish good, political scripts for phone banking sessions; give people ideas on running stalls; working with other campaigns and encouraging Momentum members to go beyond the official Labour canvassing tactic of simply surveying voting intentions and instead have actual political discussions with people on the doorstep. There has been a suggestion that the website should feature comments on disputed issues like Labour’s apparently “united” climb down over immigration. We have to see if that will be picked up by the small team running the website and email bulletin.

2. GM will organise a post-election conference of the ‘Labour left’ on June 17 (or a week later). The idea is to use this meeting to fight against the likely disillusionment of the Labour left post June 8 and to convey the message that – no matter what the outcome of the elections – the key task remains: to transform the Labour Party to make it fit for purpose.

Detailed plans for the day have yet to be finalised, but the general idea is to have a smaller ‘strategy meeting’ during the day and a bigger rally in the late afternoon. Of course, those details are the place where the devil likes to hide and the preliminary discussions of the seven comrades planning the event have shown a fair amount of disagreements on how to move forward.

  • Should the strategy meeting allow motions to be heard? Or encourage groups to bring general position papers on the future of the Labour Party (that are not up for voting)? Should we invite both? Or should there be a general statement instead? Who is going to prepare it? Will we allow a proper discussion on any amendments?
  • Should only “big names” on the Labour left (LRC, Campaign for Labour Party Democracy and Red Labour) be officially invited? Or should we also include smaller groups like Red Flag, Labour Party Marxists, Alliance for Workers’ Liberty, Nick Wrack’s Labour Socialist Network, etc? All of them are of course centrally involved in GM and its steering committee.
  • What about Momentum branches? Should only those groups ‘affiliated’ to GM be allowed to send representatives? Or do we want to encourage those in branches with pro-Lansman majorities to come along? How many per branch?

All of these issues are still being discussed. It is no doubt a good idea to get the Labour left together in the same room. Even better if we can actually discuss what we think is the right strategy for transforming the Labour Party. An excellent initiative, in our view. But it should be transparent, politically honest and prepared to openly say what needs to be done to transform the Labour Party in a meaningful way – primarily, to take on the right. Corbyn is being undermined, briefed against and belittled by his ‘colleagues’ every step of the way. Unless we take on the saboteurs, the left will lose this fight and with it the best political opportunity it has had for many decades.

This begs the question as to why we should place such emphasis on the LRC and CLPD. They’ve been around a while, that’s true. But so has cancer. At least one person on the conference arrangements committee wants to make the staging of a conference dependent on the active participating of those groups.

But the CLPD – just like Momentum – has consciously decided to support Corbyn without any criticism. It has given up the fight for mandatory selection. It shows no interest in taking on the right in the party. The recent CLPD AGM voted against condemning Jon Lansman’s coup in Momentum. Why would they want to get involved in an event initiated by GM, an organisation that was founded in opposition to the coup?

We don’t know what the LRC leadership thinks about anything at the moment – maybe even they don’t – but it is probably safe to assume it is along similar lines to those of the CLPD. After all, they have now closed shop and will re-open only after the June 8 election.

The politics of Red Labour are another matter entirely. This group exists only online and does not really have any identifiable politics, as it is made up of people from a variety of political backgrounds. Clearly, while we should invite those organisations to participate in our conference, we should not subordinate ourselves to them or their politics. In particular the CLPD’s ‘strategy’ towards the Labour Party is fatally flawed. And even if the CLPD and LRC agreed to sponsor the conference (very doubtful), it begs the question if they would actually do anything with any motions or statements agreed there. It would simply be empty posturing, not the beginning of a real campaign to consciously and actively transform the Labour Party. So what’s the point?

Wasted opportunities galore

Carla Roberts of Labour Party Marxists was appalled by Momentum’s ‘inaugural conference’ and its Duracell bunnies

Momentum’s March 25 “inaugural conference” was without doubt the worst leftwing event I have ever attended. I do not often agree with bourgeois journalists’ take on the left, but a sarky scribe from The Independent does sum up the day quite neatly:

Tom Watson and his allies who fear Momentum should relax … They’re not capable of plotting. In a draughty old, cold ex-factory in Birmingham, no policies were being formulated – far from it – beyond the usual devotionals for Corbyn.1)www.independent.co.uk/voices/momentum-conference-corbynism-corbynites-labour-party-birmingham-jeremy-corbyn-john-mcdonnell-a7650191.html

It really is astounding that the best an organisation with 22,000 members and a database of over 250,000 supporters should come up with is such a lame, apolitical and tiny gathering. Who would have thought 18 months ago that the incredible energy, enthusiasm and pure joy created by the election of Jeremy Corbyn as leader of the Labour Party would be so criminally wasted?

Momentum might claim that 600 people attended the event in a freezing former factory a mile from the nearest train station in Birmingham. But unless they counted people twice as they went in and then left again (for quite a few not a great deal of time passed between those two moments), they have clearly applied the creative counting method so beloved by sects like the Socialist Worker Party. No more than 350 people shivered in the graffiti-covered hall with its (literally) shitty toilet facilities.

Socialist Resistance – which in its usual Johnny-come-lately fashion only recently and only half-heartedly turned its back on Left Unity in order to join the Labour Party and Momentum – has published a rather hyped-up report, according to which there were about 500 people present, which meant “it was standing room only at the plenary sessions”. But the author fails to mention that the organisers had only put out 100 chairs.

Maybe some young, trendy east London hipsters would have felt at home here. But virtually the only young people present were the two dozen or so Momentum employees and volunteers running the thing. For the rest, I would say, that 50-plus was the average age. On paper there might be many young Momentum members, but visit any local Momentum meeting and you will see who is really active within it.

No Grassroots

Mind you, the ‘opposition’ to Jon Lansman’s autocratic rule is not faring much better, I am afraid to say. The steering committee of Grassroots Momentum has so far not managed to meet and it looks like its first gathering will not happen before April 22 – a whopping six weeks after it was elected. And, although the SC continues to squabble over such weighty issues as how long its lunch break will be, a majority did manage to agree on one thing: not to make an organised intervention on March 25. There might have only been 350 people there, but clearly not all of them were loyal and unthinking Lansman supporters. They could and should have been engaged with, at the very least by handing out a leaflet, intervention from the floor and perhaps at a fringe meeting. There certainly was plenty of political space to fill.

But only three SC members (Tina Werkmann, Simon Hannah and Nick Wrack) agreed with the proposal to produce a leaflet, based on the decisions agreed at the Grassroots conference. The rest of the SC opposed or did not comment. This is probably going to be the only time the opposing sides on the SC (anti-Zionism campaigner Jackie Walker and the pro-Zionist Alliance for Workers’ Liberty) will agree on anything.

At the Momentum ‘conference’ itself, the day began and ended with a plenary session held in a big hall in the centre of the factory, with three one-hour-long workshops sandwiched in between. All the rooms for the group sessions had at least one wall missing – curtains were used as substitutes. This meant the noise from other sessions and the stalls area made it difficult to hear people speak.

Hope not Hate presenting a workshop at Momentum’s “conference”

And, when you did hear them, you often wish you had not. A majority of the workshops were run by outside organisations, without being labelled as such. For example, 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.

Turn the other cheek

The speeches in the plenary sessions were hardly more inspiring, although I suppose you could say they did contain some politics – of a certain type.

Speaking in the first plenary, shadow chancellor John McDonnell was – as is now unfortunately the norm for him – more than underwhelming. He claimed that he and Corbyn had transformed the Labour Party into “an anti-austerity party”. I do not know how he squares that with the fact that thousands of Labour Party councillors up and down the country are enforcing the draconian cuts imposed by the Tory government – under the clear instruction of Corbyn himself, who wrote to them in December 2015, asking them to continue to set “balanced budgets” and not rock the local government boat. 2)www.newstatesman.com/politics/uk/2015/12/jeremy-corbyn-warns-labour-councils-not-set-no-cuts-budgets

McDonnell went on to complain that he was being hammered by the media, “although I’m putting forward the same things that Ed Miliband stood for”. He is right, of course – his ideas for a “national investment bank”, a “cap” on energy price rises and “more council houses” are hardly radical. But worse was to come.

He reserved much of his speech for the need to “work in unity” with the right in the Labour Party and thought it was “striking to see members of Momentum and Progress putting their differences to one side and campaigning together for Labour”. He said he wants Momentum members to “work comradely with everybody else, listen to their views patiently”. He added:

Many people are fed up with all the divisions and splits. I am fed up with all the divisions and splits. If I can offer to have tea with Peter Mandelson, then surely we can all work together in Labour Party branches, whatever groups and political backgrounds we come from. And when you are being provoked, then meet this provocation with comradeship and solidarity.There is so little that divides us politically. There were hardly any political differences in the leadership campaigns, for example.

So there you have it. A statement of utter capitulation to the pro-capitalist Labour right. Such a course totally rules out campaigning for the kind of programme needed to transform the Labour Party into a weapon of and for the working class. A programme that would, of course, include the mandatory reselection of MPs (needed to curb the power of the right), rescinding the barring and expulsion of thousands of leftwingers, the abolition of the compliance unit, making conference Labour’s sovereign body, etc.

Instead, everything has to be subordinated to winning the next election – no matter on what programme of half-baked reforms. We in Labour Party Marxists believe that, unless we are in a position to implement the full minimum programme of Marxism, socialists can achieve much more when we organise as a strong party of opposition. We envisage the taking of power not just in Britain in isolation, but as part of a worldwide movement of working class self-liberation that has Europe as its decisive point of departure.

References

1 www.independent.co.uk/voices/momentum-conference-corbynism-corbynites-labour-party-birmingham-jeremy-corbyn-john-mcdonnell-a7650191.html
2 www.newstatesman.com/politics/uk/2015/12/jeremy-corbyn-warns-labour-councils-not-set-no-cuts-budgets