Momentum – through the looking glass

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Jim Grant of Labour Party Marxists wonders if the bourgeois press thinks their readers are sheep 

We are barely two weeks into Momentum’s existence, and already the British media is terribly excited – bringing to bear the fearless pursuit of truth, attention to detail and scrupulous fair-mindedness for which it is famed.

There is, of course, nothing more suspicious than a group of persons associating together in pursuit of common political objectives. There must, surely, be some hidden agenda. And our brave hacks have done a stand-up job assembling as much evidence as possible to demonstrate that all those participating in Momentum have, unbeknownst to themselves, joined a lunatic Trotskyist cult.

Representative of this tendency is, first of all, Dan Hodges writing in The Daily Telegraph. Hodges cut his teeth as, according to his former byline in the paper, a “Blairite cuckoo in the Brownite nest” at the fag-end of the last Labour government; though he no longer calls himself a Labour member, his agenda has not significantly changed since departing (which really ought to tell you something about how closely his ‘values’ were aligned to the labour movement in the first place).

Anyway, for Hodges, “Momentum [is] spelt M-I-L-I-T-A-N-T”.1 It seems you cannot turn over a rock in the Labour Party without finding some swivel-eyed, ranting leftie beneath, and Hodges is fixated on one Jon Lansman, associated with such sinister ventures as, er, his blog (Left Futures) and the Campaign for Labour Party Democracy. Hodges’s ‘smoking gun’ is an article by Lansman noting that Jeremy Corbyn’s rightwing opponents have not gone away, and it will be necessary to defend the leftwing leadership “when they strike”. Very militant-sounding, of course – but surely little more than a statement of fact. How dare the Corbynistas not abandon their leader to the carnivorous affections of his enemies!

Momentum is thus described rather grandly as Corbyn’s “Praetorian guard”, when – inasmuch as it has any success getting off the ground – it will resemble not some elite military unit, but rather the same bundle of naive, excitable human material that so spectacularly swept aside the cynical Brewers Green machine people this summer. If one were so minded, one could call such an agglomeration a ‘mob’; and, indeed, Hodges comes close when he declares mandatory reselection of MPs to be a “protection racket” (how dare those little people in branches and CLPs presume to interfere in promising careers!). Praetorian guard, not so much.

It paints a pretty picture, though – on one side, a vast invading force of hardened warriors (or, otherwise, a Mafia family – if only Hodges could make his mind up); and the other, a rag-tag militia of simple-hearted Labour ‘moderates’, with only parliamentary salaries, corporate backing and the entire bourgeois press to defend them. Will our plucky heroes survive, against all the odds?

Hodges is not the only journo with Militant on the mind. While he can only manufacture silly conspiracy theories about Jon Lansman, however, The Sunday Times at least managed to find some kind of tenuous connection – in the person of Dave Nellist, former Militant MP, and still a leading light in Militant’s modern incarnation, the Socialist Party in England and Wales.

The first sentence – which, as any journalism course will tell you, is the most important, since it is the most likely to be read – reads: “Trotskyists are being urged to join a new group for Jeremy Corbyn’s supporters in a fresh effort to purge moderate Labour MPs and shift the party further to the left.” Those who make the effort to read a little further are rewarded with the subtle clarification that comrade Nellist supports … mandatory reselection, “which moderates fear will lead to a purge”. By “moderates”, they mean rightists; by “fear”, they mean ‘are telling the press’; by “purge”, they mean a reckoning with their treachery. Other than that, entirely fair and accurate.

Lest the reader imagine that this sort of fanciful material is restricted to august mainstays of the rightwing press, we cite, finally, the Huffington Post: a terribly modern, web-only bunch of liberal clickbait peddlers. Breaking with the pattern observed so far, HuffPo’s Owen Bennett discovers the hidden hand not of Militant, but the Socialist Workers Party. What’s the skinny here? That the SWP’s Party Notes – forced into the open by this paper – calls for its members to attend Momentum meetings, make their political affiliation clear and see if any of those present would be interested in attending the Next Really Important Demonstration.

SWP national secretary Charlie Kimber was happy to offer a few ‘damning’ quotes to Bennett (who, somewhat ungratefully, calls him “Mr Kimble” for most of the piece – whoops!), suggesting that the SWP might perhaps consider standing candidates against Labour “when you have a rightwing Labour council sticking two fingers up to Jeremy Corbyn”.3 Displaying an uncharacteristic sense of caution, “Mr Kimble” insists that any such action would have to be considered “very carefully”. Very wise – not that Owen Bennett is able to judge.

Wrong for 20 years

In truth, none of the far-left bogeypersons advanced by the media are really plausible. We may return to SPEW, née Militant: it would be a wonderful thing, truly, if it were leading its members decisively into battle against the poor beleaguered souls of the Labour right. It is, alas, doing no such thing. It is plain enough at this point that its leadership has come round – grudgingly – to the idea that the fight is worth having. Very good.

However, it has spent the last two decades committed more staunchly than anyone to the idea that the Labour Party is dead and it is necessary to break all remaining pro-working class forces from its allegiance, to form a new workers’ party in the idealised image SPEW has of old Labour. Instead of merely admitting the plain truth – that, in the light of newly available evidence, those 20 years were spent committed to a wrong theory – SPEW instead chooses to contort reality, claiming that it was correct all along, and a full and final victory for Corbyn would represent in reality the founding of the new workers’ party it had always envisioned!

This is a notably lithe theoretical dodge, but advancing it among people who have not already drunk the Kool-Aid will provoke laughter at best, and a discreet phone call to the men in white coats at worst. The confusion does not stop there – SPEW has called for affiliations to be opened up to its like, but still opposes the re-affiliation of the RMT and FBU unions, and still insists that it will run candidates against Labour in the next local elections – SPEW supremo Peter Taaffe is evidently not as circumspect as “Mr Kimble”.

In short – ladies and gentlemen of the press – Militant is not back from the dead, and is not presently the danger you remember it to be. But without Militant running things in secret, and without SWP infiltration, just what is there left to be scared of? Fortunately, Sam Coates – deputy political editor of The Times, no less – has discovered another insidious threat.

Labour Party Marxists has published a six-point plan to ensure that Mr Corbyn’s agenda is widely adopted: “As the hard right begins its civil war, the left must respond with disciplinary threats, constitutional changes and reselection measures,” it said.

Indeed, we did – and do. These people are traitors, and need to be ushered – politely but insistently – out of the Labour movement. This is not their place. It is not clear how many people are listening to us, if that matters. We do not exaggerate our influence in the wider movement; after all, we have the deputy political editors of eminent daily papers to do that for us, apparently.

There are three possible explanations for these egregious stupidities. The first is that they are honest, if severe, mistakes. The deputy political editor of The Times has mistaken our small propaganda group for a large organisation that will rise, rampant, should mandatory reselection be placed on the Labour Party rulebook. Its Sunday sister is genuinely under the illusion that the modern successor to Militant still has the wherewithal to take over city councils and get people onto the Labour benches. (Simple error, if nothing else, almost certainly accounts for the “Mr Kimble” business.)

Number two: these papers are actively and deliberately lying. Their activity is equivalent in substance and form to the forged ‘Zinoviev letter’ – a cynical and dirty trick to delegitimise the Labour leadership.

And finally, the middle way: the elementary errors of research and fact are to be explained by an indifference to the truth of the matter. This is the mode of communication defined by philosopher Harry G Frankfurt as “bullshit”.4 The bullshitter cares not if what he says is true; only that it convinces enough people enough of the time.

The common thread among all three is contempt for the readership. Either these stories are deliberately deceptive; or they are advanced in the confidence that nobody will check either way; or those commissioned to write them are incompetent. None of these options shines glory on the papers concerned. The condition for any of them working is uncritical acceptance of untruths by the people they purport to keep informed.

Well, if anybody is curious enough to find this article as a result of all this free publicity, and patient enough to read all the way to the end – socialism is, above all else, about not treating the general population like morons. It is this dangerous idea that rankles both the careerist technocrats of the Labour right and the demagogues of the press.

Notes

1. The Daily Telegraph October 10.

2. The Sunday Times October 18.

3. www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/2015/10/16/momentum- swp-jamie-reed-entyists_n_8312330.html.

4. HG Frankfurt On bullshit Princeton 2005.