Tag Archives: democracy

Labour Party manifesto: Our alternative perspective

James Marshall critiques the ‘defence and security’ section of the 2019 manifestoApart from a few tweaks here and there, the ‘official’ Labour approach to what is euphemistically called ‘defence and security’ is an unmistakable continuation of the Tories’. True, the 2019 manifesto, It’s time for real change, complains about the reduction in “trained army personnel” (ie, professional soldiers) from 102,000 to just over 74,000, the below-inflation pay rises and how members of the armed forces and their families are obliged to live in substandard accommodation.

Similar comments have, though, come from the mouth of General Lord Richard Dannatt. The former head of the army decries the “smallest navy, army and air force we have ever had”.1)Sunday Express November 24 2019 What about pay and conditions? A few years ago we find him saying that “pay was the most important issue facing the armed forces” and that the “appalling” accommodation has to be improved.2)The Daily Telegraph June 5 2008

Needless to say, there is nothing remotely radical about Richard Dannatt, a GCB, a CBE, a MC, a DL as well as being a Lord. Though nowadays sitting as a cross bencher, revealingly, breaking normal army conventions, he served as David Cameron’s advisor on military affairs when he was leader of the Tory opposition.

As for socialists, while we should criticise low pay and bad accommodation in the armed forces, a shrinking standing army is surely another matter entirely. In principle, we cannot object.

It’s time for real change condemns the fact that Boris Johnson’s government “refuses to publish the report into possible foreign interference by Russia in UK democracy”. Nevertheless, Dominic Grieve, Jo Swinson, Financial Times Europe editor Tony Barber, even Hillary Clinton, have said the exact same thing. So, once again, nothing controversial in bourgeois terms.

Police

Perhaps the most contentious proposal contained in It’s time for real change – well, at least when it comes to ‘defence and security’ – is the suitably vague promise to “consult on creating a representative body for the armed forces, akin to the Police Federation”.

Trailed earlier this year, inevitably the proposition resulted in lathering condemnations: Corbyn is a threat to army discipline, a friend of terrorists, a hard-line Marxist, etc. Needless to say, though, there is nothing remotely Marxist about the proposal. The Police Federation model is a giveaway.

Established by the 1919 Police Act, it replaced the National Union of Police and Prison Officers, which – and this is crucial – in August 1918 and June 1919 organised nationwide police strikes. The government put infantry and tanks onto the streets. Yet a “combination” of economic concessions, repression, political manoeuvring, union blunders, police divisions and the failure of organised labour to support the police “ensured the failure of the 1919 strike”.3)O Jones, ‘The “spirit of Petrograd”? The 1918 and 1919 police strikes’ What Next? No31, November 2007

Liberal Party prime minister David Lloyd George saw the defeat of the 1919 strike as a decisive “turning-point in the labour movement, deflecting it from Bolshevist and direct-actionist courses to legitimate trade unionism once again”.4)Lord Mayor of Liverpool Archibald Salvidge, quoted in O Jones, ‘The “spirit of Petrograd”? The 1918 and 1919 police strikes’ What Next No31, November 2007 His Liberal-Conservative coalition proscribed NUPPO and made sure that strikers were summarily fired and then blacklisted – a cruel act of revenge, which faced only “half-hearted” opposition from the Labour Party in parliament.

Unlike NUPPO, the Police Federation is barred by statute from affiliating to the TUC. No less vital, it represents all ranks, from ordinary constables to chief inspectors, and is legally forbidden to take strike action. With good reason, the Police Federation has been described as “amounting to a sort of company union” (Owen Jones – writing when he was a leftwinger).5)Lord Mayor of Liverpool Archibald Salvidge, quoted in O Jones, ‘The “spirit of Petrograd”? The 1918 and 1919 police strikes’ What Next No31, November 2007

Nato

Showing that a Jeremy Corbyn-led Labour government would act fully within, not against, the US-dominated world order, there is the pledge to “maintain our commitment to Nato and our close relationship with our European partners”.

Nato is an unmistakable product of the cold war. A US-sponsored grand alliance designed to anathematise the Soviet Union, hegemonise the fading British and French imperiums, incorporate West Germany and serve as a bulwark against mass communist parties in Italy, France and Greece. US bases were established throughout western Europe. Simultaneously, counterrevolutionary institutions were embedded and the social democratic settlement promoted.

Under the presidency of Ronald Reagan, US strategy underwent a significant change. Out went social democracy and containment; in came neoliberalism and “rollback”. Hence the feeble complaint that Nato membership locks Britain into “American superpower manoeuvres” and makes it “impossible to pursue a principled international course” (Peter Hain – writing when he was a leftwinger).6)P Hain The democratic alternative: a socialist response to Britain’s crisis Harmondsworth 1983, p96

Following the collapse of bureaucratic socialism in eastern Europe and the Soviet Union – and with it the US victory in the cold war – “was the obvious time for Nato to have been disbanded” (Jeremy Corbyn, 2012). 7)J Corbyn Morning Star May 23 2012 Instead, Nato expanded to Russia’s very borders: a violation of the “host of assurances” given to Mikhail Gorbachev in 1990 that Nato would not go beyond what had been the German Democratic Republic.  So no protective buffer zone. And eyes are set on further eastern expansion. Ukraine and Georgia have been in Nato “membership action plan” (MAP) negotiations. A recipe for war.

The Labour leadership’s Nato pledge is clearly designed to appease. Donald Trump, the largely undiminished Labour right, big business, the City, the capitalist media, the generals, need not worry about the next Labour government … “Jeremy has been on a journey” (Emily Thornberry, 2018).8)Daily Mail September 12 2018

Then there is the commitment to spend at least 2% of GDP on “defence”. This was demanded by Barack Obama back in September 2014; he wanted all Nato members to take a greater share of the “burden”. David Cameron’s government eagerly agreed. In his financial statement of July 8 2015, George Osborne promised to meet the 2% target “not just this year but every year of this decade”. So, when it comes to ‘defence and security’, what It’s time for real change says comes straight from the Tory songbook.

To leave not a shadow of doubt about the class nature of the “next Labour government”, we read this truly disgusting passage: “Labour supports the renewal of the Trident nuclear deterrent.” Naturally, this goes hand-in-hand with pieties about global peace, the UN, “multilateral efforts”, the Non-Proliferation Treaty and creating a “nuclear-free world”. But the same can be said of every modern UK government. Against left demands to unilaterally abandon nuclear weapons – Michael Foot, Tony Benn, Jeremy Corbyn – Tory and Labour prime ministers alike claimed that they were multilaterally working towards a ‘nuclear-free world’.

Suffice to say, each of the four Dreadnought submarines being built under the Trident renewal programme (total cost – some £40 billion) will carry 12 Trident II D-5 missiles. Each missile has eight independently targeted warheads, each with an explosive power of some 100-475 kilotons – or, put another way, more than five to 25 times the A-bomb that levelled Hiroshima in August 1945. Without a doubt, Trident is an “indiscriminate weapon of mass destruction” (Jeremy Corbyn, July 2016).9)The Daily Telegraph July 19 2016

There are those who somehow still manage to pass themselves off as leftwing, who give this dismal narrative a radical, anti-capitalist spin. Speaking at one of Momentum’s World Transformed events, Paul Mason outlined his case for a “battle of rational ideas”. Basically, what his rationality boils down to is Labour striving to prove its “economic competence” and promising that there will be an “essential continuity, that there’s going to be an army, nuclear weapons and a police force”. In other words, a Labour government which will seek to manage capitalism better than the Tories and do nothing to take the “toys” (Paul Mason’s word) from the top brass boys. Yes, he calls the weapons that killed between 90,000 and 146,000 people in Hiroshima and between 39,000 and 80,000 people in Nagasaki “toys”. Obnoxious. So, at least when it comes to ‘defence and security’, it is clear that the advice offered by this repentant Trotskyite has been accepted.

It is, of course, completely useless denouncing It’s time for real change from the sidelines – the position of dilettantes, dogmatists and brittle sects. No, Marxists must learn how to lead masses of people, even if at the moment most possess only an elementary level of class-consciousness.

Not to actively take part in the “real workers’ movement”, not to even to try to push the struggle being fought out in the Labour Party to the point where Marxists transform it into a united front of a special kind, and thereby secure a commanding control over CLPs, the NEC, the PLP, etc, is not merely foolish: it is criminally irresponsible. The immediate task of any worthwhile leftwing group or trend is to engage with the Labour Party’s rank and file at the closest possible quarters. Marxists must win the real “battle of rational ideas”. In the context of this article, we seek to convince this hugely expanded mass that we not only need a genuine socialist economic programme. We need a genuine socialist military programme too.

War

Despite Donald Trump’s sanctions and bellicose threats, China’s imperial Belt and Road initiative, the defensive expansionism of Russia and Emmanuel Macron’s call for a common European arms budget and common armed forces, there is no immediate prospect of an all-out World War III. With the certainty of mutually assured destruction (MAD), who would fight whom and why?

Nevertheless, there is the obvious danger of a regional conflict sucking in rival big powers with all manner of unpredictable consequences: Iran, Venezuela, Israel-Palestine, North Korea, Ukraine, Syria, Taiwan and the South China Sea all spring to mind. A direct clash between the US and Russia or China could quite conceivably rapidly escalate. Even a limited nuclear exchange would exact an almost unimaginable human toll.

However, what distinguishes Marxists from others on the left who oppose the danger of war is that we emphatically reject all varieties of pacifism. And, when it comes to the left, there are all manner of daft nostrums on offer. A few representative samples.

The Labour Representation Committee touchingly suggests appointing a “UK minister for peace”, and a Labour government which will “progressively withdraw the UK from the international arms trade”. 10)LRC Programme for a real Labour government no date or place of publication Banal gloop, which obviously has nothing in common with socialism.

Will gushing praise for the UK’s “worldleading” defence industry and the promise to “continue to work with manufacturers, unions and export partners” cause a change of heart? Unlikely. The LRC has constituted itself as a fan club for the existing Labour leadership, not a principled critic. Hence, at the time of writing, the LRC’s complete silence over the ‘defence and security’ section in It’s time for real change. Instead, the LRC heaps fatuous praise on Labour’s programme for the NHS, broadband, housing, universal credit, etc.

Nor can any decent leftwinger agree with the Alliance for Workers’ Liberty’s studiedly vague “Cut arms spending” formulation. The AWL is a social-imperialist outfit and typically adopts a ‘who are we to oppose’ attitude towards US-UK led operations (Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Syria, etc).

Nor can Left Unity’s slightly less craven call for a “drastic reduction” in military expenditure be supported. What exactly is the drastic reduction envisaged by the Kate Hudson, Andrew Burgin, Felicity Dowling groupies of Syriza, Podemos, Die Linke? Needless to say, a comprehensively failed perspective.

The same goes for the nudge-down pleas of the Morning Star’s Communist Party of Britain to “cut military spending to average European levels”. Ditto the Scottish Socialist Party’s formula of reducing “defence spending” to no more than the per capita level of the Republic of Ireland. Short-sighted, timid and, when it comes down to it, a banal cost-cutting exercise.

Our military programme does not champion either a 2% or a 1.5% version of the existing armed forces in the name of securing a capitalist peace. Despite the factional variations, that is what the LRC, AWL, Left Unity, CPB, etc actually advocate.

In contrast, Marxists – real Marxists that is – know that wars are inevitable while society remains divided into classes. We recognise that the struggle for international peace is inextricably linked with the class struggle at home – crucially the struggle to raise the working class, so that it becomes the ruling class.

That explains why Marxists stand by the time-honoured demand of arming the working class and disarming the capitalist class. A demand that educates minds, encourages the first tentative steps, till the goal is brought to full fruition. Hence – and this needs emphasising – the demand for arming the working class and disarming the capitalist class is about the now. It is not a demand only to be raised in a revolutionary situation. If we do that, it is too late – far too late. We would already have been crushed, defeated, killed.

Naturally, opportunists instinctively recoil from the very notion of arming the working class. Like the Weimar social democrats, they are infected with constitutionalism. Certainly the case with the Socialist Party in England and Wales and the CPB.11)See Weekly Worker May 21 2009 But, symptoms that begin with a reformist chill and a shiver, if not treated, end in complete breakdown. Confronted by the miners’ Great Strike of 1984-85 and the formation of hit squads, the Marxism Today Eurocommunists and their ilk condemned ‘macho violence’. They offered, instead, the mystical, women-only pacifism of Greenham Common. Come the ‘war on terrorism’ – ie, the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq – not a few of these former peaceniks were to be found in the ranks of the Bush-Blair warmongers: eg, David Aaronovitch, Nick Cohen, Francis Wheen, Norman Geras, Christopher Hitchins and other such types eagerly put their names to the notorious Euston manifesto.

By contrast, we Marxists are convinced that the bourgeois state machine must be broken apart, demolished, smashed up, if we are to put an end to war. So, concretely, in today’s conditions, that not only means scrapping Trident and all nuclear, biological and chemical weapons of mass destruction – indiscriminate and therefore inherently inhuman. We should also be arguing for the scrapping of all standing armies.

To state the obvious, nor will peace be realised through the UN, a commitment to Nato or even an armed forces “representative body”. Paradoxical though it may seem, peace has to be fought for. Specifically, towards that end, the working class has to develop its own fully armed militia. An idea that is not spun out of thin air. No, workers’ militias grow out of the needs of the day-to-day struggle: protecting picket lines, defending Muslims from fascist thugs, guarding our local offices, meeting places and demonstrations, etc. And, of course, with a genuinely powerful workers’ militia it becomes a realistic possibility to split the state’s armed forces. Fear of officers, sergeant majors and court martials can thereby be replaced by the rank and file’s readiness to disobey orders. Yes, a mutiny, or a strike. Certainly, army units, air force squadrons and naval crews declaring for our side provides us with the military wherewithal necessary to safeguard either an expected or a recently established socialist majority – in the House of Commons, European Parliament, House of Representatives, etc.

Programmatically the workers’ movement should therefore champion these demands:

  • Rank-and-file personnel in the state’s armed bodies must be protected from bullying, sexual harassment, humiliating punishments and being used against the working class.
  • There must be full trade union and democratic rights, including the right to form bodies such as soldiers’ councils.
  • The privileges of the officer caste must be abolished. Officers must be elected. Workers in uniform must become the allies of the masses in struggle.
  • The people must have the right to bear arms and defend themselves.
  • The dissolution of the standing army and the formation of a citizen militia under democratic control.

Background

Strange though it may seem to the historically ill-informed, here Marxists draw direct inspiration from the second amendment to the US constitution. Ratified to popular acclaim in 1791, it states: “A well regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.” Those who made the American revolution – above all the urban and rural masses – saw a standing army as an existential threat to democracy. Eg, in her Observations on the new constitution (1788) Mercy Otis Warren – the mother of the American revolution – branded the standing army as “the nursery of vice and the bane of liberty”. At great sacrifice the common people had overthrown the rule of George III – some 70,000 Patriots are believed to have died – and the camp of democracy was determined to do the same again, if faced with another unacceptable government.

Naturally Marx and Engels considered the second amendment part of their heritage. Clause four of the Marx-Engels Demands of the Communist Party in Germany (1848) is unequivocal:

Universal arming of the people. In future armies shall at the same time be workers’ armies, so that the armed forces will not only consume, as in the past, but produce even more than it costs to maintain them.

The Marx-Engels team never wavered. Read Can Europe disarm? (1893). Here, in this pamphlet written by Frederick Engels, 10 years after the death of his friend and collaborator, we find a concrete application of Marxism to the dawning epoch of universal suffrage and universal conscription.

Engels concluded that the key to revolution was mutiny in the armed forces. His pamphlet outlined a model bill for military reform in Germany. Engels was determined to show that the proposal to gradually transform standing armies into a “militia based on the universal principle of arming the people” could exploit the mounting fears of a pending European war and widespread resentment at the ruinously costly military budget. For propaganda purposes, Engels proposed an international agreement to limit military service to a short period and a state system in which no country would fear aggression because no country would be capable of aggression. Surely World War I would have been impossible if the European great powers had nothing more than civilian militias available to them.

Not that Engels was some lily-livered pacifist. He supported universal male (!) conscription and, if necessary, was quite prepared to advocate revolutionary war on the model of Napoleon’s grande armée. Needless to say, his Can Europe disarm? was not intended to prove the undoubted military superiority of a militia over a standing army (it can fully mobilise very large numbers with incredible speed, provides defence in depth and is, therefore, capable of successfully surviving a whole series of initial defeats). No, Engels wanted a citizen army within which discipline would be self-imposed. An army where rank-and-file troops would, if necessary, turn their guns on any officer tempted to issue orders that ran counter to the vital interests of the people.

Subsequent Marxist writers took the militia idea for granted. Though marred with various reformist assumptions, Jean Jaurès (1859-1914) elaborated upon the whys and wherefores of a militia system in his L’armée nouvelle (1910). Work and military training had to be brought close together, full-time army cadre would be confined to instructors, etc. 12)As far as I am aware, L’armée nouvelle remains untranslated into English. An abbreviated translation was published in 1916 and can be found on the excellent Marxist Internet Archive, though I think the 1907 dating given is mistaken. See www.marxists.org/archive/jaures/1907/military-service/index.htm

What went for Marxist writers went for Marxist parties too. Eg, the 1880 programme of the French Workers’ Party, the 1891 Erfurt programme, the 1889 Hainfeld programme of the Austrian Social Democratic Party, the 1903 programme of the Russian Social Democratic Labour Party, etc.

In the ‘political section’ of the programme of the French Workers’ Party (Parti Ouvrier), authored jointly by Karl Marx and Jules Guesde, we find the demand for the “abolition of standing armies and the general arming of the people” (clause 4). A proposition faithfully translated by the Germans: “Education of all to bear arms. Militia in the place of the standing army” (clause 3). The Austrians too are adamant: “The cause of the constant danger of war is the standing army, whose growing burden alienates the people from its cultural tasks. It is therefore necessary to fight for the replacement of the standing army by arming the people” (clause 6) 13)I am grateful to Ben Lewis for his translation of the Hainfeld programme. Then we have the Russians: “general arming of the people instead of maintaining a standing army” (clause c9).The newly formed Labour Party in Britain too: in its first general election manifesto in 1900, there is this call: “Abolition of the standing army, and the establishment of a citizen force”. 14)I Dale (ed) Labour Party general election manifestos 1900-1997 London 2002, p9

With the word there came the deed.

Amongst the first decrees of the 1871 Paris Commune was the abolition of the standing army and its replacement by the national guard – “the bulk of which consisted of working men” (Marx). By actually constituting a new state, based on a repressive force that did not sit outside the general population, the Commune opened a new chapter in global politics. And Russia took what happened in Paris to new heights. Formed in April-March 1917, the Red Guards proved crucial to the success of the October Revolution. Red Guards, and increasing numbers of army units, put themselves at the disposal of the Military Revolutionary Committee – a subdivision of the Bolshevik-led Petrograd soviet. On October 25 (November 7) 1917 the MRC issued its momentous declaration that the provisional government of Alexander Kerensky “no longer existed”. State power has passed into the hands of the soviets of workers’, peasants’ and soldiers’ deputies.

The are many other instructive examples.

In 1919 we find Leon Trotsky – effectively the founder of the hybrid Red Army – presenting a set of theses to the 9th Congress of the Russian Communist Party “on going over to the militia system”. Here he proposed the founding of a “Red Workers and Peasants Militia, constructed on the territorial principle”, and bringing the “army close in every possible way to the process of production”. 15)L Trotsky How the revolution armed Vol 2, London 1979, p190 The inspiration provided by the 1848 Demands and the 1910 L’armée nouvelle is all too evident.

Shortly afterwards, beginning in the early 1920s, the two main workers’ parties in Germany built their own non-state militias. The SDP dominated the soft-left Reichsbanner, while the Communist Party formed the much more militant Rotfrontkämpferbund (at its height it boasted 130,000 members). In Austria, despite its 1923 founding statutes emphasising ceremonial paraphernalia, marches and band music, the Schutzbund served as a kind of “proletarian police force”.16)M Kitchen The coming of Austrian fascism London 1980, p116 When it came to strikes, demonstrations and meetings, this workers’ militia maintained discipline and fended off Nazi gangs. Though hampered by a dithering social democratic leadership, the Schutzbund heroically resisted the February 12 1934 fascist coup.

Workers formed defence corps during the 1926 General Strike in Britain. American workers did the same in 1934. There were massive stoppages in San Francisco, Toledo and Minneapolis. In Spain anarchists, ‘official communists’, POUM, etc likewise formed their own militias in response to Franco’s counterrevolutionary uprising.

Then, more recently, in 1966, there was the Black Panther Party. It organised “armed citizen’s patrols” to monitor and counter the brutal US police force. Even the “non-violent” civil rights movement, led by Martin Luther King, included within its ranks those committed to “armed self-defence” against the Ku Klux Klan and other such terrorism.17)See CE Cobb This non-violent stuff’ll get you killed New York NY 2014

Corbyn

Imagine that a Corbyn-led Labour Party wins a general election majority on December 12. Supposedly because it is constitutionally inappropriate for serving officers to “intervene directly in matters that are of political dispute”, are we really expected to believe that the armed forces will idly sit by and behave in a thoroughly trustworthy manner? 18)Jeremy Corbyn quoted in The Mirror November 8 2015 That would be parliamentary cretinism of the highest order – a disease that infects reformists of every stripe and variety with the debilitating conviction that the main thing in politics is parliamentary votes.

Even given the limitations of It’s time for real change, it is easy to envisage a crisis of expectations. Masses of Labour members and voters are instinctively far to the left of the manifesto. The actual election of a Labour government could quite conceivably set them into motion as an elemental class force. Through their own efforts Labour’s electoral base would seek to put into practice what they think a Corbyn-led government really stands for. Defy the hated anti-trade union laws. Win substantial pay increases. Free the migrants imprisoned in detention centres. Occupy empty luxury properties and solve the homelessness crisis at a stroke. Arm with rudimentary weapons to ward off police attacks.

Any such scenario would inevitably provoke a corresponding reaction. It is not so much that the ruling class cannot tolerate a Corbyn-led government and its present-day programme of abolishing tuition fees, ending tax benefits for private schools, aiming for net zero emissions by the 2030s, introducing some form of rent controls, repealing the latest (2016) round of Tory anti-trade union legislation, nationalising water, the railways, electricity and other utilities, progressively transferring a minority percentage of shares to workers and establishing a national transition fund. Tinkering, safe and, in fact, amongst Keynesian economists, all perfectly reasonable.

No, it is the enthusiastic reception of Marxist ideas, the rejection of capitalism, the dominant position of the pro-Corbyn left amongst the mass membership and the distinct possibility of a yanking, further shift to the left, and consequent mass self-activity, that causes ruling class fears. And, have no doubt, fearful they are.

Hence Tony Blair’s much touted ‘neither Boris Johnson nor Jeremy Corbyn’ call, but a more “suitable candidate” for prime minister, who will head a government of national unity. 19)Financial Times November 25 2019 Failing that, and a Corbyn-led government, expect other, illegal, or semi-legal, methods. Mike Pompeo’s “push-back”, a politically motivated run on the pound, civil service sabotage, bomb outrages organised by the secret state – even a military coup of some kind.

Say, following the advice of Paul Mason, the Corbyn-led government stupidly decides to leave MI5, MI6, the police and the standing army intact. Frankly, that would present an open door for a British version of general Augusto Pinochet. In Chile thousands of leftwingers were tortured, were killed, and who knows how many, including US citizens, were ‘disappeared’. The September 11 1973 military coup overthrew the Socialist Party-Communist Party Popular Unity reformist government under president Salvador Allende. That, despite its studiedly moderate programme and repeated concessions to the right. CIA fingerprints were all over the Pinochet coup. 20)See P Kornbluh The Pinochet file: a declassified dossier on atrocity and accountability New York NY 2004

There have been plenty of warning omens. Sir Richard Dearlove, former head of MI6, labelling Corbyn “a present danger to our country”, who would not “clear a security vetting”. He also singled out Andrew Murray and Seumas Milne – former Straight Leftists and now close Corbyn advisors. They have “denigrated their own country and embraced the interests of its enemies and opponents”.21)Mail on Sunday November 24 2019 Then there is rightwing Tory MP Graham Brady, who said: “We must do everything possible to stave off the risk of a Corbyn government.” 22)Daily Telegraph May 25 2019 The Financial Times too ominously states that Corbyn’s leadership damages Britain’s “public life”.23)Financial Times August 14 2015 The Economist likewise lambasts Corbyn as a member of the “loony left” and “dangerous” to Britain.24) Editorial The Economist June 3 2017 Sir Nicholas Houghton, outgoing chief of the defence staff, publicly “worried” on BBC1’s Andrew Marr show about a Corbyn government. 25)The Mirror November 8 2015 Then there was the truly sinister statement made to The Sunday Times by a “senior serving general”:

There would be mass resignations at all levels and you would face the very real prospect of an event which would effectively be a mutiny … Feelings are running very high within the armed forces. You would see a major break in convention, with senior generals directly and publicly challenging Corbyn over vital, important policy decisions such as Trident, pulling out of Nato and any plans to emasculate and shrink the size of the armed forces. The army just wouldn’t stand for it. The general staff would not allow a prime minister to jeopardise the security of this country and I think people would use whatever means possible, fair or foul, to prevent that. You can’t put a maverick in charge of a country’s security.26)The Sunday Times September 20 2015

The army is an agent of counterrevolution, almost by definition. An inability to understand that elementary fact represents an elementary failure to understand the lessons of history.

Legally, culturally, structurally, the British army relies on inculcating an “unthinking obedience” amongst the lower ranks. 27)NF Dixon On the psychology of military incompetence London 1976, p244 And it is dominated, run and directed, as we all know, by an officer caste, which is trained from birth to command the state-school grunts.

Of course, the British army no longer has vexatious conscripts. Instead recruits join voluntarily, seeking “travel and adventure” – followed by “pay and benefit, with job security.”28)M (Lord) Ashcroft The armed forces and society: the military in Britain – through the eyes of service personnel, employers and the public London May 2012 Yet, because they often live on base, frequently move and stick closely together socially, members of the armed forces are unhealthily cut off from the wider civilian population and, hence, from the growth of progressive and socialist ideas in the Labour Party. Far-right views appear to be very common – eg, see Army Rumour Service comments about that “anti-British, not very educated, ageing communist, agitating class-war zealot”, Jeremy Corbyn.29)The Guardian January 25 2016

The best known exponent of deploying the army against internal “subversives” is still brigadier Frank Kitson with his Low intensity operations manual (1971). The left, trade unionists and strikers – they are “the enemy”, even if their actions are intended to back up an elected government. 30)F Kitson Low intensity operations London 1991, p29 Legally, the “perfect vehicle for such an intervention” would be an order in council. 31)P O’Conner The constitutional role of the privy council and the prerogative London 2009, p20 After consulting the unelected privy council, the monarch would call a state of emergency and invite the army to restore law and order.

Remember, army personnel swear an oath that they “will be faithful and bear true allegiance to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, her heirs and successors”, and that they will “defend Her Majesty … against all enemies”. And, as made crystal-clear by Michael Clarke, director of the United Services Institute, this is no mere feudal relic: “The armed forces don’t belong to the government; they belong to the monarch,” he insists:

And they take this very seriously. When [the Tory] Liam Fox was defence secretary a few years ago, for his first couple of weeks he referred to ‘my forces’ rather than Her Majesty’s forces – as a joke, I think. It really ruffled the military behind the scenes. I heard it from senior people in the army. They told me, ‘We don’t work for him. We work for the Queen.’32)Quoted in The Guardian January 25 2016

In the late 1960s and early 70s there were widespread press reports of senior officers and ex-officers conspiring against the rightwing Labour government of Harold Wilson. Many were unhappy about Rhodesia, many branded him a Soviet mole. However, their pathological hatred was directed squarely against leftwing Labour MPs, such as Tony Benn, Irish republicans, communist trade union leaders, striking workers and protesting students – the background to Chris Mullin’s novel, A very British coup (1982).

If Jeremy Corbyn makes it into Number 10, there is every reason to believe that threats of “direct action” coming from the high command will assume material form. That is why we say: put no trust in the thoroughly authoritarian standing army. No, instead, let us put our trust in a “well regulated militia” and the “right of the people to keep and bear arms”.

References

References
1 Sunday Express November 24 2019
2 The Daily Telegraph June 5 2008
3 O Jones, ‘The “spirit of Petrograd”? The 1918 and 1919 police strikes’ What Next? No31, November 2007
4 Lord Mayor of Liverpool Archibald Salvidge, quoted in O Jones, ‘The “spirit of Petrograd”? The 1918 and 1919 police strikes’ What Next No31, November 2007
5 Lord Mayor of Liverpool Archibald Salvidge, quoted in O Jones, ‘The “spirit of Petrograd”? The 1918 and 1919 police strikes’ What Next No31, November 2007
6 P Hain The democratic alternative: a socialist response to Britain’s crisis Harmondsworth 1983, p96
7 J Corbyn Morning Star May 23 2012
8 Daily Mail September 12 2018
9 The Daily Telegraph July 19 2016
10 LRC Programme for a real Labour government no date or place of publication
11 See Weekly Worker May 21 2009
12 As far as I am aware, L’armée nouvelle remains untranslated into English. An abbreviated translation was published in 1916 and can be found on the excellent Marxist Internet Archive, though I think the 1907 dating given is mistaken. See www.marxists.org/archive/jaures/1907/military-service/index.htm
13 I am grateful to Ben Lewis for his translation of the Hainfeld programme
14 I Dale (ed) Labour Party general election manifestos 1900-1997 London 2002, p9
15 L Trotsky How the revolution armed Vol 2, London 1979, p190
16 M Kitchen The coming of Austrian fascism London 1980, p116
17 See CE Cobb This non-violent stuff’ll get you killed New York NY 2014
18 Jeremy Corbyn quoted in The Mirror November 8 2015
19 Financial Times November 25 2019
20 See P Kornbluh The Pinochet file: a declassified dossier on atrocity and accountability New York NY 2004
21 Mail on Sunday November 24 2019
22 Daily Telegraph May 25 2019
23 Financial Times August 14 2015
24 Editorial The Economist June 3 2017
25 The Mirror November 8 2015
26 The Sunday Times September 20 2015
27 NF Dixon On the psychology of military incompetence London 1976, p244
28 M (Lord) Ashcroft The armed forces and society: the military in Britain – through the eyes of service personnel, employers and the public London May 2012
29 The Guardian January 25 2016
30 F Kitson Low intensity operations London 1991, p29
31 P O’Conner The constitutional role of the privy council and the prerogative London 2009, p20
32 Quoted in The Guardian January 25 2016

Real workers’ democracy

William Sarsfield looks at the issues underlying the main point of controversy at the LAW conference

It was interesting that the most contentious discussion in Labour Against the Witchhunt’s February 2 all-members meeting was on
the question of democracy and accountability in the campaign – specifically the method of election
to our leadership group, the steering committee (SC). The political
divide took concrete form in two amendments to LAW’s proposed constitution. Although not explicitly counterposed, these expressed very different views on a democratic culture in working class organisations, and conference took the right decision to take them together, as mutually exclusive, alternative political approaches.

An amendment submitted by Tina Werkmann – LAW’s membership secretary – proposed that “a simple majority at any all-member meeting can decide to appoint or recall a member of the steering committee”. This was vigorously opposed by leading SC member Tony Greenstein. His own amendment to the constitution draft called on conference to reject the section proposing that the SC “elects its own officers and sub-committees and can appoint new SC members”. His alternative substituted the annual general meeting for the SC, delegating it power to “elect a chair, vice-chair, secretary and treasurer, as well as up to four other members of the SC”, leaving the committee the power only to “[elect] its own sub-committees and … coopt up to four additional members”.

The real sting in the tail was
the suggested benchmark for an all-members meeting to be able
to remove an SC member – Tony proposed that officers (and, presumably, members of the SC without ‘portfolio’) could only be recalled after “a two-thirds majority” of an all-members meeting or AGM had been secured.

This is superficially attractive to many – it has the appearance of a democratic and inclusive measure. However, in truth, it is anything but.

A rough parallel is with the office of president of the USA – which essentially is an elected monarchy able to ignore, denigrate and/ or bypass the most representative constitutional institution, the House of Representatives. Likewise, a
LAW officer elected to a post by
the attendees of a particular national conference (or even as atomised individuals in an online poll, perhaps – a là Jon Lansman’s preferred method of bypassing democracy) would be able to disregard the views of others on the leading body; to claim a ‘mass’ mandate for their position – even if the comrades this person worked with on a day-to-day basis knew from direct experience that s/he was utterly useless. Electing officials in this way can degrade the selection process to the level of a popularity contest.

Again, these sorts of provisions are introduced in bourgeois ‘democratic’ institutions as an infrastructure
of checks and balances against democracy; a method to distance the mass of people from genuine scrutiny and control over their elected representatives. Looking
at this form of government in the 19th century United States, Marx branded it a “defiled democracy”. As alluded to above, comrade Greenstein was also keen for us to adopt the “defiled” provision of a two-thirds majority vote to remove members of the leadership body – again, a stipulation that resonates with the US requirement of a two-thirds majority in the Senate (the least representative institution in the constitutional framework) to impeach a president.

As exemplified in the turnover
of elected representatives and rapid changes of political majorities in the tumultuous revolutionary upheaval
of 1917 Russia, out opposition to
this hypersensitivity of governmental institutions to the changing outlook
of the masses is an essential part of the working class democracy we
fight for as Marxists and as consistent democrats. It found its organisational form in soviets, which operated on the basis of simple majorities.

Clearly, comrade Greenstein and the minority that supported his stance did so with the best of intentions.
The overwhelming majority of
our audience on February 2 were veterans of the British left in its various ideological manifestations. As such, I am sure the comrades could have passed many an hour regaling
us with horror stories of the crass bureaucratism that is the cultural norm in the revolutionary sects – let alone the undemocratic monstrosity that was the Labour Party back in the day.

However, the well-intentioned remedy put forward by Tony Greenstein would foster the problems of lack of democratic accountability
it was meant to guard against. By contrast to what he was proposing, leadership committees in the workers’ movement should be accountable working bodies in two ways.

First and foremost, the membership that elected these people to responsible positions must be kept informed of a leading committee’s work, its discussions and any important differences of opinion that have emerged. Second, individual members of a leadership are accountable – as well as to the membership as a whole – to the leadership collective. These are the comrades that on a day-to-day basis are in the best position to closely scrutinise the work of its individual members, to become familiar
with an individual’s strengths and weaknesses and to hold them to account politically. Indeed, this has de facto been the way the SC has operated since the beginning of the campaign back in October 2017 and, in general, this leading body has worked well. There have been six all-member meetings of LAW since its creation in 2017 – seven national gathering, if we include the February 2 conference. There have been plenty of robust exchanges of viewpoints, but no serious charges of bureaucratic manipulation by any individual or group. Why change now?

Mandatory selection on the agenda at 2018 conference

The current process of ‘trigger ballots’ is far from adequate to choose our representatives. We believe that any such ‘checks and balances’ should be abolished. Members should have the right to easily chose who should represent them and their constituency. We need a system of true mandatory selection. Quite simply, everybody who wants to stand as MP (including the sitting MP), should have to put themselves forward to the local membership who should decide in a democratic and transparent vote.

Two rule change motions that would introduce such mandatory selection of MPs have been voted through CLPs in time for conference 2017 – but in accordance with one of the plethora of undemocratic clauses in the LP rule book, these procedural motions are then ‘parked’ for almost 14 months before they can be finally discussed by delegates at the 2018 conference. (Note, a motion from Filton & Bradley, Stoke and Newport West to this year’s conference proposes to do away with this crassly anti-democratic rule. Absolutely correct!)

International Labour (20% or 771 members voted: 62% for, against 38%)

Reform to the selection procedure for Westminster Parliamentary Candidates

Suggested Rule Change to Chapter 5: Selections, rights and responsibilities of candidates for elected public office; Clause IV Selection of Westminster parliamentary candidates

Replace Clause IV.5 and IV.6 with the following:

“5. Following an election for a Parliamentary constituency the procedure for selection of Westminster Parliamentary Candidates shall be as follows:

  1. If the CLP is not represented in Parliament by a member of the PLP, a timetable for selecting the next Westminster Parliamentary Candidate shall commence no sooner than six weeks after the election and complete no later than 12 months after the election.
  2. If a CLP is represented in Parliament by a member of the PLP, then a timetable for selecting the next Westminster Parliamentary Candidate shall commence no sooner than 36 months and complete no later than 48 months after the election. The sitting Member of Parliament shall be automatically included on the shortlist of candidates, unless they request to retire or resign from the PLP.
  3. The CLP Shortlisting Committee shall draw up a shortlist of interested candidates to present to all members of the CLP who are eligible to vote in accordance with Clause I.1.A above.”

Consequential amendments to be made elsewhere in the Rule Book where the ‘trigger ballot’ is mentioned.

Supporting argument

5.A:

We need to ensure candidates are in place in case of by-elections or snap elections, and to allow the candidate time to spend getting to know the CLP, the local issues and joining local campaigns. The timetable should be sufficiently flexible to ensure adequate time for political reflection following a defeat in the constituency, while responsive enough to get the campaign up and running early.

5.B:

  1. a) Most members interact with the broader electorate daily. It consists of their family, neighbours, and workmates. Members know what they think and can reach them with convincing arguments. Many in leading positions acknowledged after the 2017 General Election that they were out of touch, and this must be respected. Mandatory reselection will prevent future mistakes, and the internecine strife these mistakes resulted in. Necessary differences of opinion can be discussed freely, without being institutionalised in inflexible unrepresentative structures. Our Party can unite in a common struggle to improve society.
  2. b) Being an MP was never a job. It is about democratically representing the electorate, and leaving when one no longer does that. The general election in 2015 showed there are no safe Labour seats (see Scotland), the 2017 election that there are no safe Conservative seats (Kensington and Canterbury). The Labour party can no longer afford to have any MPs, who drift away from being representatives. Mandatory reselection is the most effective way of ensuring that.
  3. c) Mandatory reselection reduces the perception that reselection is motivated by hostility towards a sitting MP. By normalising the practice for all, including the most popular MPs, reselection is an opportunity for candidates to defend their record, outline their vision and debate alternatives with their membership. Most sitting MPs should easily win reselection, strengthen their position and increase their support within the CLP. It is an opportunity for the CLP to discuss policy and priorities and to develop a local strategy on which to campaign.
  4. d) The weakness of the present reselection procedure is that it exhausts members, who can only contribute to election campaigning in their spare time. It shifts the balance of power to those who can use their work- time to campaign. It is as if one would first have a referendum (without universal individual suffrage) to see if a majority wants a general election. If anybody attempted to introduce such a system, it would be understood this puts a ball-and-chain on democracy. Mandatory resection would remove this hindrance to full democracy within the Labour party, and thereby in society as a whole.

 

Rochester and Strood CLP

The Labour Party Rule Book 2017 Chapter 5: Selections, rights and responsibilities of candidates forelected public office; Clause IV Selection of Westminster parliamentary candidates; subclause 5

Replace paragraphs (A) and (B) by the following:

‘A. If the sitting MP wishes to stand for re-election the standard procedures for the selection of a Prospective Parliamentary Candidate shall be set in motion not later than 42 months after the last time the said Member of Parliament was elected to Parliament at a general election and before any scheduled or “snap” general election. The said Member of Parliament shall have equal selection rights to other potential candidates save for those outlined in paragraph.

B. The said Member of Parliament shall have the right to be included (irrespective of whether he/she has been nominated) on the shortlist of candidates from whom the selection of the Prospective Parliamentary Candidate shall be made.’

Consequential amendments to be made elsewhere in the Rule Book where the ‘trigger ballot’ is mentioned.

Supporting argument

Labour MPs are not independents, solely elected by their constituents. They are selected by the Labour Party and benefit from Labour funds, national party campaigning, local members on the ground etc. As such they should be accountable to the party and in particular to local members before each election.

Many Party members are now of the view that some Labour MPs take insufficient account of the views of their CLP and of Annual Conference, our Party’s sovereign body. One reason for this is that adequate mechanisms of accountability are non-existent in our Party. Effectively, a Labour MP in a ‘safe’ seat has a ‘job for life’ – well into their 80s in some cases. Indeed, some Labour MPs in Scotland clearly took this view until, of course, ‘safe’ Labour seats ceased to exist north of the border. There was one well- documented case of a Labour MP who had not been out canvassing for some 20 years. And it was not only in Scotland – in South Shields CLP, when David Miliband left, the marked-up register was found to be a mere 0.3%.

You will see that our proposed rule change makes provision for the sitting MP to automatically to be on the selection list if s/he wishes.

 

Momentum Grassroots conference: Against Jon Lansman, for what?


On March 11, Grassroots Momentum met at Conway Hall in central London. Simon Wells and Carla Roberts report

Over 200 Momentum members attended the first gathering of the newly established Momentum Grassroots network. It could have easily been much bigger, had it not been built as a ‘delegate’ event – a decision which was overturned at the beginning of the meeting by a clear majority of the branch delegates (see interview opposite).

The organised left was there, of course: there were about two dozen members and supporters of the Alliance for Workers’ Liberty/The Clarion and a handful of supporters each of Workers Power (Red Flag), Socialist Appeal and Labour Party Marxists. The Labour Representation Committee and Nick Wrack’s Labour Party Socialist Network had a few members present, though neither seemed to make a coordinated intervention.

It is, of course, long overdue for the left within the Labour movement to start to get organised. But, on the day, GM’s main political problem became more and more evident: it has been set up as a reaction to Jon Lansman’s January 10 coup, when he simply abolished all elected Momentum bodies and imposed a bureaucratic constitution. All GM supporters are united in their opposition to this highly undemocratic manoeuvre. However, when it comes to the way forward, there were – at least – three different viewpoints present on March 11:

  • Some want a clean split from Momentum – the sooner, the better. There are, naturally, differences over with whom to split, to form what exactly and on what political basis.
  • Some want to continue to work in Momentum for now, while at the same time almost replicating the official body – with parallel structures and similar political limitations, but on a lower level: similar campaigns, similar leadership elections, etc.
  • Some – and LPM belongs to this third group – agree that we should continue to work within Momentum for the time being, but with a clear understanding of its limited shelf life, openly criticising its exceedingly pinched political outlook and subordination to the politics of Jeremy Corbyn’s 10 pledges.

How not to run a conference

Unfortunately, the GM conference made no attempt to clarify where GM as a whole might stand in relation to those three main options. In fact, we did not get a chance to discuss anything much at all, let alone serious politics.

To put it mildly, the organisation of the event was a shambles – reflecting, of course, the ideological and political poverty of much of the left. As is now common at such leftwing gatherings, we were presented with a stuffed agenda, which included speeches from strikers – but we had no time for proper, meaningful discussion or decision-making. Of course, we support the Picturehouse workers struggle for a living wage and are with the teaching assistants in Derby in their strike against the Labour council. But should the founding conference of GM really have devoted so much time to hearing their representatives, when contributions from the floor were limited to a measly two minutes?

An exception was made for Matt Wrack, leader of the Fire Brigades Union, who was allowed six minutes, but this was not enough to outline a set of serious proposals. Comrade Wrack had personally sponsored the conference with a “large contribution” – since his election as general secretary of the FBU, he has been “setting aside a portion of my wages to help fund the labour movement”.

It would have helped if we had started the day with this comrade’s contribution, but it was not until just before lunch that he spoke. He explained that the FBU “continues to keep an open mind” about Momentum and Grassroots Momentum, but had so far declined the offer to take up a seat on Lansman’s national coordinating group. He spoke about the need to democratise Labour, fight for the selection of socialist MPs and for socialist policies – and said that in fact “we are making almost no progress in any of these areas”. He quite correctly stated that “the right is running rings around the left at conference” and “expulsions for political reasons are not being challenged”. He was also right to say that “Corbyn will lose, unless he faces these challenges head on”.

The biggest problem was the agenda, which really was the wrong way round. We were to discuss campaigns first (see interview), then democratising the Labour movement, and only then were we supposed to have a discussion on “the way forward for GM”, including how to elect some kind of a leadership. This last item was supposed to last just over an hour and a half. But clearly there were a lot of disagreements in the hall.

What kind of leadership?

LPM supporter John Bridge successfully challenged the agenda and after lunch we went on to discuss the future of GM. This challenge turned out to be quite crucial, as that discussion went on for the rest of the day. Clearly, conference should have started with it. And maybe then we would have had time to debate this question politically, rather than just decide on a method of electing a new leadership.

On this issue, we were presented with three options, which were put together by the former chair of the (now abolished) conference arrangements committee, Alec Price – himself a supporter of option 2 (he also started chairing the session, but after a challenge from the floor sat down again).

  • Option 1 was not very serious: keep things as they are, with the remaining members of Momentum’s official national council (also abolished), who were elected many months ago, continuing to meet. Only one or two people voted for this.
  • Option 2 was favoured by the ex-CAC members and was given by far the most time: local groups would affiliate to GM and send two representatives each to a leadership meeting every three months. Plus, conference was to directly elect a ‘coordinating group’ of six named positions. These two bodies would work together in perfect harmony, with the national meeting of branch delegates supposedly being the superior committee. But this is obvious nonsense. In practice the six directly elected officers would be unaccountable little Bonapartes – an all too common practice of the left and fervently opposed by LPM. Much to the consternation of the top table, after a couple of recounts, option 2 was defeated with 83 for and 89 against. Those who had already divvied up the six jobs between themselves were visibly stunned. For a good five minutes they literally did not know what to do.
  • Option 3 was textually the briefest and allowed for “15-20 people” elected at conference to form a “steering committee” that “can elect an executive if they wish”. This was successfully carried with 88 for and 68 against.

In general, option 2 was supported by comrades who want a politically narrower leadership (specifically in this case excluding the AWL/The Clarion) – about half the conference. As we had no proper discussion on this issue, it was projected onto the 30-second (!) hustings contributions by the 40-plus candidates who put themselves forward for the 20 national committee places. Without any consultation, let alone a vote, the chair announced that a least half the committee had to be female (ie, the quota system loved by liberal bureaucracies everywhere). And it is no surprise, especially given the numbers they had mobilised, that the AWL candidates did well. They make up around a quarter of the committee (that despite the fact that in the morning session they badly lost out when they spoke against the proposal to include in GM’s basic platform opposition to the bogus ‘anti-Zionism equals anti-Semitism’ witch-hunt).

The left within Momentum is, though, surely split on the most crucial question before us: what it is we hope to achieve in the Labour Party.

Is it about following the masses into Labour and building this or that social movement? Is it about splitting off a leftwing minority to form the core of a future revolutionary ‘party’ – ie, one of the sects writ large? Is it about working for a Labour government and hoping that Jeremy Corbyn manages to hang on till 2020? Is it about fighting for a left-reformist Labour government that will carry out a limited range of progressive measures within the confines of the existing monarchical constitution?

Or, on the contrary, is it about transforming the Labour Party into a permanent united front of the entire organised working class, a party programmatically committed to republican democracy and a new, socialist, clause four? If it is the latter – which is certainly the case with LPM – then this means recognising that taking such a course will ensure that Labour remains a party of extreme opposition for many years to come. We prefer that to forming a government that has no chance of carrying out the full programme of Marxism. Hence 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.

There is clearly no real political coherence among the comrades involved in GM at this stage. This is something we shall seek to rectify through a process of debate, discussion and involvement in what should be our common struggle to influence Momentum’s 22,000 members. This means that, in our view, GM should as a matter of tactic, not principle, remain a part of Momentum – just so long as we can make our voice heard in it and there are people to listen.

That does not mean we politically subordinate ourselves to Jon Lansman or, for that matter, Jeremy Corbyn. Of course not. But, if we arm ourselves with principled politics, we will have the opportunity, in however limited a way, to win many thousands to the cause of socialism. For example, LPM secretary Stan Keable stood in the recent Momentum elections to the national coordinating group for the South East constituency. He won a respectable 458 votes on a Marxist platform, which included a strongly-worded condemnation of the Lansman coup, naturally. Where is the downside of that, exactly?

Steering committee

The following were elected:

Matt Wrack,137
Sahaya James, 95
Tracy McGuire, 93
Jackie Walker, 93
Nick Wrack, 89
Simon Hannah, 82
Delia Mattis, 82
Kevin McKenna, 80
Jill Mountford, 75
Graham Bash, 71
Rosie Woods, 71
Rida Vaquas, 69
Lee Griffiths, 69
Alec Price, 67
Pete Radcliff, 64
Ed Whitby, 63
Tina Werkmann, 61
Jan Pollock, 58
Richard Gerrard, 56
Joan Twelves, 53

Further results here:

 

Stay and fight the battle of ideas

Despite widespread outrage over the Lansman coup, there is little appetite to split Momentum, says Carla Roberts of Labour Party Marxists

Momentum branches, groups and committees up and down the country have come out openly against the Lansman coup of January 10. Labour Party Marxists is publishing statements and motions as and when they are being released.

Not surprisingly, most Momentum activists are utterly appalled by the crass way in which the February 18 conference has been rendered impotent, all democratic decision-making bodies have been abolished and a new anti-democratic constitution imposed by Jon Lansman and his allies. But, as can be expected, there is huge confusion on how to best move forward.

On January 13, the (abolished) conference arrangements committee released a statement (with the three Lansman allies on the committee not voting), according to which: “The CAC takes its direction from Momentum’s national committee, as per the original remit we were given. Until that body meets and informs us our role has changed, we will continue working towards Momentum’s first conference.”

A provisional date of March 11 for “the postponed conference” has been mooted. The statement rigidly sticks to the CAC’s initial brief, according to which the committee will accept only “one motion” from each branch and “one motion or constitutional amendment” from each region. The committee “advises” that the national committee should meet, as previously planned, on January 28 in London.

Clearly, the CAC statement was written shortly after the coup, when people were still very sore and very angry. And at the time many were probably up for the kind of action they are actually proposing here: a split. Of course, within Momentum, it is simply impossible to wrest power out of Lansman’s hands – that was the case before the coup and is now even more so. He set up the various companies that control Momentum’s finances and its huge database. And, crucially, he has got the support of Jeremy Corbyn.

However, it has become quite clear in recent days that very few Momentum members, let alone branches, are up for that kind of fight. And it would be a massive undertaking: anybody splitting would be hugely disadvantaged and would have to start again from ground zero. Without the money, contacts and the database.

The CAC seems to have changed its mind, too. It looks more and more likely that the January 28 meeting will become not so much a meeting of the (abolished) NC, but the kind of event that the Alliance for Workers’ Liberty is pushing for: a “local groups network” within Momentum.

Fearful of a split, AWL members have been keen to tone down statements in branches and it is interesting that the left minority of the steering committee (which comprises AWL member Jill Mountford, AWL supporter Michael Chessum, Fire Brigades Union president Matt Wrack and Jackie Walker) has gone very quiet too, although apparently it continues to meet. 1)www.workersliberty.org/node/27459

The biggest problem for the opposition is its lack of a clear political alternative. The CAC was searching for some middle ground with Lansman. Its preferred constitution – drafted by Nick Wrack and Matt Wrack – had all the problems of Lansman’s: referendums, direct election of officers and mimicking student unions, trade unions and the Labour Party itself.

Given the absence of a well-organised and politically principled left, the idea of challenging the Lansman coup head-on was never realistic. But that does not mean we should give up the fight for the hearts and minds of Momentum’s 20,000 or the 200,000 on its database. True, quite a number of people – for example, Nick Wrack – have talked about resigning or have already left Momentum. This level of frustration and impatience is understandable, but also short-sighted.

There have been huge democratic deficits within Momentum right from the start. Ever since Corbyn collected enough nominations to stand in the leadership election, he and his allies had to play catch-up. They had no idea what to do with the tens of thousands of people enthused by his campaign who wanted to get more involved. Momentum was badly thought-out and badly executed.

One thing is for sure, however: it was never the intention of Jon Lansman to allow Momentum to become a democratic organisation that would allow members to decide on its constitution or policies. That was obvious right from the start.

After all, such an organisation could easily embarrass Jeremy Corbyn by publishing statements that were not to the liking of the Labour right. For example, calling for the mandatory selection of parliamentary candidates (which was of course, until very recently, the position of the Campaign for Labour Party Democracy, of which Corbyn is a member) would scupper the illusion of a ‘peace settlement’ within the party.

But any organisation that cannot trust its membership is unlikely to be able to mobilise them … even as spear carriers. The danger is that Momentum will soon become little more than an empty husk. But for now, Labour Party Marxists will continue to work in Momentum while any life in it remains. We will do so with a view to spreading our vision of what Labour needs to be.

Demands for boycotting Momentum – crucially the February 18 ‘conference’ organised by team Lansman and the elections to the new ‘national coordination group’ (NCG) are mistaken. There is no reason to impose isolation upon ourselves. Indeed we should use every opportunity, every avenue to spread the ideas of Marxism. True, Momentum’s new constitution is a travesty of democracy. But the same can be said of the United Kingdom constitution, with its hereditary head of state, unelected second chamber and ‘first past the post’ elections to the lower house, which leave minority parties massively underrepresented. Nevertheless, it is right to stand in parliamentary contests.

Of course, the left should organise and debate the road ahead – first on January 28 and then March 11 (perhaps). That can involve electing delegates from Momentum branches. But there should also be a conscious effort to involve the groups and fractions committed to working in the Labour Party: the Labour Representation Committee, Red Labour, The Clarion, Red Flag, Labour Party Socialist Network, Socialist Appeal and, of course, Labour Party Marxists.

Such a conference should establish a Momentum opposition and a politically representative steering committee. Obviously there can be no hope of winning a majority on Momentum’s NCG. Jon Lansman has ensured that he will enjoy a permanent stranglehold: a maximum of 12 people on this body (which will have between 27 and 34 members) will be elected by Momentum members – the rest being filled by unions, affiliates, MPs and other “elected representatives”.

And it is far from certain that the 12 will be made up of leftwingers – for example, Lee Jasper is one of the 17 who has already thrown his hat into the ring. 2)https://order-order.com/2017/01/18/male-shortlist-momentum-internal-elections Ken Livingstone’s race relations quango chief has the undeniable advantage of having name recognition. Ditto Paul Mason or Owen Jones, should they decide to stand or be persuaded by Lansman and Corbyn to do so.

In any case, the Momentum opposition can link up branches, organise joint action and fight for more space for leftwing ideas in Momentum.

To be a member or not? There is some dispute over the status of all those left Momentum members who have been expelled from the Labour Party for political reasons: Nick Wrack, for example, Tony Greenstein and a whole lot of members of the Alliance for Workers’ Liberty.

The key point in the constitution, point 5.8, states that “Any member who does not join the Labour Party by July 1 2017, or ceases to be a member of the Labour Party, or acts inconsistently with Labour Party membership, may be deemed to have resigned.” 3)https://d3n8a8pro7vhmx.cloudfront.net/momentum/pages/939/attachments/original/1484079394/momentum-constitution.pdf?1484079394

Labour NEC member Christine Shawcroft – Jon Lansman’s successor as director of the company Momentum Data Services Ltd, which controls the vast database of the organisation – assures us on Facebook that this

does not mean expulsions. 5.8 says if anyone ceases to be a member of the party they may be deemed to have resigned. Not will, but may … Even if we were to take action under 5.8, the member will have a right of appeal under 5.10. So there is no witch-hunt, no expulsions (well, only under very unusual circumstances, we hope).

Some hope. “Christine speaks with forked tongue”, writes Jackie Walker on Facebook. She is right. The new rules are actually very clear:

  • Those expelled by the LP for political reasons can appeal to the Momentum NCG to be allowed to remain/become members of Momentum” (rule 5.10) 4)“Where a member may be deemed to have resigned in accordance with rules 5.7, 5.8 or 5.9 there will be a right to be heard by the NCG or a delegated panel before a final decision is made.”
  • But even if those are allowed to become Momentum members, they will not be allowed to take up elected positions, either on the national coordinating committee (rule 6.2) 5)“The NCG shall consist of Momentum members who confirm (and can provide evidence on request) that they are current Labour Party members.” or in local groups (rule 12.7) 6)“Anyone who stands for office, such as chair or secretary, in a group or network shall be a member of the Labour Party and in the event that they cease to be a member of the Labour Party within their term of office, they are deemed to have resigned such office.”.

The current formulation, centring on the word “may”, means that we will basically have to wait and see how actively those expelled by Labour for political reasons will be hounded out of Momentum. The Momentum office has assured members that they will do no such thing. That begs the question as to why these rules have been put in the constitution in the first place.

They are not there to prepare Momentum for affiliation to the Labour Party, as has been claimed. Members of affiliated organisations – eg, trade unions and socialist societies – do not need to be members of the Labour Party. Instead, they are entitled to become “affiliated members” of Labour.

No, these rules are clearly there to get rid of troublemakers from the left, as and when the need arises. It is never a good sign when rules are written in a way that leaves them open to interpretation. Needless to say, the interpreting will not be done by anybody appealing to the kangaroo court run by the NCG, but the ‘judges’.

And if you have indeed managed to convince the judges that you are worthy of Momentum membership, you might still be thrown out for being “a member of an organisation disallowed by the NCG.” 7)Point 5.1.ii in the constitution.

References

References
1 www.workersliberty.org/node/27459
2 https://order-order.com/2017/01/18/male-shortlist-momentum-internal-elections
3 https://d3n8a8pro7vhmx.cloudfront.net/momentum/pages/939/attachments/original/1484079394/momentum-constitution.pdf?1484079394
4 “Where a member may be deemed to have resigned in accordance with rules 5.7, 5.8 or 5.9 there will be a right to be heard by the NCG or a delegated panel before a final decision is made.”
5 “The NCG shall consist of Momentum members who confirm (and can provide evidence on request) that they are current Labour Party members.”
6 “Anyone who stands for office, such as chair or secretary, in a group or network shall be a member of the Labour Party and in the event that they cease to be a member of the Labour Party within their term of office, they are deemed to have resigned such office.”
7 Point 5.1.ii in the constitution.

A party, within a party within…? Report of the November 5 meeting of “Momentum National Committee members”

Carla Roberts of Labour Party Marxists reports from the November 5 meeting of members of the Momentum national committee

Thirty-four people, including observers, attended the unofficial meeting for members of Momentum’s national committee, which was held in Birmingham on November 5 on the initiative of Matt Wrack, general secretary of the Fire Brigades Union.

This a was an important attempt to stand up to the decision by a small majority at a hastily called emergency meeting of the Momentum steering committee on October 28 to cancel an official meeting of the NC, which was supposed to take place on November 5 and make decisions on how Momentum’s first ever conference in February should be run. Instead, the SC – by a vote of six to three – decided that it should also make one of the most crucial decisions on the matter: namely, that conference should be organised not on the basis of local delegates, but ‘one member, one vote’ of the entire membership. A coup, in other words.

No wonder then that Momentum regions and branches up and down the country were livid. They had, after all, held meetings to discuss and make – mostly critical – amendments to the proposals put out by the Momentum office in early October on how to run conference. In the absence of a ‘horizontal’ line of communication between Momentum members or branches, it is difficult to know precisely what all the regions and branches decided, but, judging from posts on Facebook and the occasional report or set of minutes published, it looks like most regions favoured changes to the proposals (which, it should be stressed, did not come from the elected steering committee itself, but from Jon Lansman and a couple of his allies on the SC).

For example, many regions criticised the Omov plans and instead argued either for a delegate conference or a ‘hybrid’ and there were lots of proposals to lower the threshold needed to submit motions to conference. According to Lansman’s suggestion, a motion would need the support of 1,000 members before it could be heard at conference – an impossibility for any motion that is not supported and pushed by those having access to the database. The proposals criticising such nonsense seem to be the real reason why the NC was cancelled.

Immediately after the cancellation was announced, four Momentum regional conferences, a number of branches and dozens of individual members protested loudly against the move. Bourgeois newspapers quickly picked up on the “looming split” in Momentum, which in turn led John McDonnell to call an emergency meeting between comrades Lansman and Wrack to sort out the mess and limit the damage. Together they drafted a statement that was put to the SC on November 2 and initially attracted the unanimous support of its members. (Jill Mountford has since recanted, as “I woke up in a cold sweat and thought, I shouldn’t have signed this”, she said in Birmingham – though it is probably more likely that the cold sweat was down to a phone call from the leadership of the Alliance for Workers’ Liberty, of which she is a member).

The new statement, which “recognises and regrets the discontent and frustration felt by Momentum members in recent days”, gives some ground to the opposition by confirming that a new NC meeting will take place on December 3 and partially retreating on the voting arrangements for conference: “There will be both a physical delegates conference to thoroughly debate proposals submitted from the membership, and then Omov voting on the proposals in the period after the conference. The details of this procedure will be determined over the coming week.”

Yes, good luck with that. There was no such recommendation forthcoming at the Birmingham meeting – and it is doubtful whether there is any way the two methods can be combined, despite half of those present on November 5 arguing for a “hybrid”. More on that below.

Mess

Although the November 2 statement undoubtedly reduced the number of those travelling to Birmingham three days later, there was clearly still a strong desire to discuss what had happened and how similar undemocratic moves by a small leadership (whose democratic credentials are shaky, to say the least) can be avoided in the future.

Eighteen of the attendees at the November 5 meeting were members of the national committee. The AWL had four comrades present and there was a member each from the Labour Representation Committee, Red Labour, Socialist Appeal and Labour Party Marxists. A journalist from Socialist Worker was shown the door before the start of the meeting and, after a brief discussion, a member of the Socialist Party in England and Wales was also barred from attending.

Four members of the Momentum steering committee were present: Jackie Walker, Matt Wrack, Jill Mountford and her AWL fellow traveller, Michael Chessum. But because of the outrageous decision by the AWL to effectively support the right’s witch-hunting of comrade Walker by demoting her from the position of vice-chair of Momentum on the initiative of Jon Lansman, there is clearly a lot of bad blood between those four ‘left’ members on the SC.

Funnily enough, as the first speaker of the day, Jill Mountford started off by saying that “we shouldn’t turn on each other and witch-hunt each other”. Clearly, that was not meant as an apology to Jackie, but was perhaps intended as an attempt to stave off criticism of the actions of her own organisation.

But Jackie made her displeasure known, complaining, “The things that have happened to me have created a culture that has made the current move possible.” Too right. She was also self-critical: “Some of us have been coerced into supporting things that we wouldn’t have otherwise supported” – for example, the “lack of democracy within Momentum has been present for a long time”.

Comrade Wrack described an organisational “mess”, with “badly planned and badly run” meetings of the SC, where “outcomes are unclear and it is even less clear who will act to implement which decision”. There is a real discrepancy between the elected officers and the staff in Momentum office, “who don’t come from a labour movement background” and don’t know “that they are supposed to put into action the decisions that the elected officers have made”. He warned that this “tyranny of structurelessness” means that “people get away with all sorts”.

Speaker after speaker shared stories about the lack of democracy and, crucially, the inefficiency of the organisation. A comrade from Worcester told us how for months he pestered the office for contact details of other Momentum members locally, so he could set up a group: “Now I know there were six of us doing exactly the same thing at the same time. We all got the same reply from Momentum: silence.” Some of them actually bumped into each other when they were distributing Momentum leaflets at the same event.

Of course, Jon Lansman and his allies on the SC have used the fact that about a third of Momentum members are currently not organised in branches as a reason to push through Omov. In fact, like so many problems with the organisation, this is the fault of the leadership of Momentum, which is clearly not facilitating the organisation of local groups. If anything, the opposite is taking place: local groups are not allowed to send out their own emails (they all have to go through Momentum nationally), they do not receive a penny from the dues of 20,000 members and are often discouraged from organising activities.

Nevertheless, despite the obvious democratic deficit at all levels, there is clearly no desire to “split Momentum”, as had been reported. “I am here because I am convinced we still have everything to play for within the organisation”, said Matt Wrack. “We can’t throw this opportunity away and this assessment colours my whole tactical approach.”

A range of proposals were put forward in a useful if rather wide-ranging brainstorming session on how to democratise the organisation in the run-up to conference: they ranged from the need to publish the SC’s minutes and to clarify that the steering committee is subordinate to the national committee; that a new SC should be elected at the next NC meeting; that the Momentum office should help setting up local groups; to, crucially, the need to challenge the current company set-up, which gives Jon Lansman as the sole director total control over Momentum’s database – and money. Michael Chessum told the meeting that he happened to be in the office when he “overheard that Momentum had given a substantial donation to the Jeremy for Leader campaign and had seconded staff and equipment”. Chessum is the treasurer of Momentum, we should add. He should – at least – have been informed of such a decision.

It seemed to me obvious that the four members of the SC who were present should take a lead in cohering these proposals into a range of motions that regions and branches could move locally in order to give direction to those calling for more democracy. However, there is so much bad blood between the four that this is not going to happen. So the proposals are now being shared online in rough format by those who attended the meeting, with people naturally stressing those things that they found most important. An unsatisfactory outcome.

OMOV

Very interesting – though with an even less concrete outcome – was the discussion on ‘Omov versus delegate structure’ for conference. Speakers correctly identified that there are “two distinct visions” for Momentum: One, personified by Jon Lansman, is the idea that getting Jeremy Corbyn elected was the main thing that Momentum should do. From now on, it should exist as a centrally controlled organisation with lots of money and lots of staff that can organise lovely Facebook campaigns. Members of such an organisation can occasionally be activated to organise phone banks when the next coup or general election comes – but otherwise are nothing but “silent foot soldiers”, as Jackie Walker put it. Omov probably does look attractive to all those members who have so far been denied a real voice in running the organisation as a direct result of the lack of democracy in Momentum, as one speaker put it.

The other vision was supported by pretty much everybody in the room. This understands that “we are not a Jeremy Corbyn fan club”, as Matt Wrack put it. According to this outlook, Labour lefts need to actively organise in every ward and every Constituency Labour Party in order to remake the whole party from top to bottom if we are serious about fighting for a socialist future. Jeremy Corbyn is not going to do it for us.

A top down conference, followed by an Omov vote some time later, is, of course, designed to support vision 1, whereas a delegate structure is based on the need for active branches, discussion and debate amongst members – vision 2. These two visions are now openly clashing, with Jill Mountford warning that “Jon Lansman could not be more dismissive of local groups. He utterly rubbishes them at every opportunity – that is no secret.”

Her fellow AWL traveller, Michael Chessum, unsuccessfully tried to calm the waters by insisting that “I don’t think a lot of it is an active conspiracy, but there are also a lot of genuine mistakes and cock-ups. I don’t want this to become too personalised around Jon Lansman, who is not just a control-freak. Let’s show some good will.” He was openly laughed at and stopped talking after noticing that “everybody is rolling their eyes at me!” “You are kidding yourself if you think that Jon Lansman has learned a lesson,” warned Jackie Walker.

She is right. Vision 1 and vision 2 are clearly incompatible. Which is why it is a shame that about half the attendees in Birmingham supported the idea that conference could be run on a “hybrid” between Omov and a delegate system. A few seem actual fans of Omov, though most seem to think that “the genie is now out of the bottle”, as the SC had already agreed on such a method. “Now we have to make it work, otherwise we will have an insurgency on our hands if we try to overturn this decision at the next national committee”, said comrade Chessum (to the disdain of some AWL members, who heckled him).

The devil, of course, is in the detail – how on earth would it work? Would those at the “physical delegates conference” vote on the proposals before them on the day? If so, what if the ‘clicktavists’ at home subsequently overturned the decision of those they had delegated, many of whom are actually running Momentum locally? Who is going to implement such decisions? Would that not make Momentum even more undemocratic and ineffective? Everybody at our meeting argued against such a use of Omov.

Overall, this was a useful gathering, but it painfully underlined the need for the left within Momentum to start organising. The recent ‘mass amnesty’ of those suspended by Labour and the real possibility of an early general election make it imperative that the left gets its own house in order. This is still somewhat hampered by the fear of some in the room that this could be seen as a “split” within Momentum (which nobody argued for) or the forming of ‘a party within a party within a party’ (which is, in fact, just what is needed).

Jon Lansman’s coup in Momentum

On the evening of October 27, Jon Lansman, the sole director of ‘Jeremy for Labour’ company (renamed from Momentum Campaign Ltd in the summer), called an emergency meeting of the Momentum Steering Committee for the evening of October 28 – ie, with 19 hours’ notice. With some members who would be more inclined to push for democracy in Momentum not able to attend at such short notice (for example, Matt Wrack of the Fire Brigades Union and Jackie Walker), the meeting decided – by a vote of six to three – to cancel the November 5 meeting of the National Committee. This NC meeting was scheduled to take decisions on the organisation of our first national conference in February 2017.

In an email issued by Momentum this morning to “local groups’ key people” the decision is justified by the fact that “some Momentum members, groups and regional network meetings had raised concerns about the organisation of the 5 November National Committee meeting, the process leading up to it and democratic representation and participation for Momentum members more broadly”.

This is true, of course … and entirely the fault of the self-same committee that is now shutting down our democracy altogether! This body gave branches and regional committees almost no time to meet and discuss proposals for the conference or to choose delegates for the November 5 meeting. In fact, most members have not even seen the various proposals on the future of Momentum and how the conference might be run.

So, to summarise, the Steering Committee has conceded that it used crassly undemocratic procedures in the recent past – and now looks to make amends by denying Momentum branches and members the chance to meet, elect delegates and impose their democratic will on our founding conference!

In addition, the Momentum Steering Committee was elected by the National Committee, which means a lower body has just voted to disallow the higher body from meeting! Both were originally convened on very shaky democratic grounds in the first place. This was partially addressed when February’s National Committee meeting decided to elect the Steering Committee for the coming six months only – ie, up to August.

But there have been no elections for a new SC. The SC has not called a meeting of the National Committee – the body empowered to actually vote for a new Steering Committee, for six months.

It’s total shambles – an affront to democracy in our movement.

One member, one vote

Lansman (pictured) also managed to push a motion through the SC which stipulates that our conference must be organised via a system of “online voting for all members” – the full 20,000 of them, one assumes!? Of course, the merits or otherwise of the various was forms of representation for the conference was to be decided by the November 5 National Committee … which has now been spiked, of course.

An excited email was sent to all members this morning from Momentum centrally. In addition to informing us of the online voting farce above, it states that, “Over the coming months, members will propose their ideas on Momentum’s aims, ethics, and structure. We will use digital technology to ensure that all members can be involved and shape Momentum’s future.

This package of measure is the very opposite of democracy. It is designed to totally atomise individual members and undermine conference as the collective decision-making body of Momentum. It underlines (once again, unfortunately) the extent to which the left has internalised the defeats of the past decades.

To add to the confusion, it is still unclear precisely what Lansman and his allies are actually proposing. Jill Mountford takes a guess that “it seems what they mean is that delegates to Momentum conference will not take any decisions but votes will instead be taken by an online ballot of all members afterwards.”

This is worse than anything Tony Blair managed to foist on the Labour Party. How could we ever again gripe about the bowdlerising of Labour Party conference democracy if we acquiesce to the travesty that Jon Lansman and his cohorts at attempting to finagle us into?

Also, we are still in the dark as to how motions might be proposed to conference. The original Lansman plan required an initial 50 signatures for a motion to progress further. After several more hurdles had been vaulted, 1000 signatures would be required for a motion to be heard by conference. Many branches and regional committees have criticised this, calling for the threshold to be lowered. It is very likely that the National Committee meeting of November 5 would have overturned restrictive stipulations like these and challenged many more of the plans of Lansman and co.

Much better to just stop the NC from meeting at all!

Distrust of the members

At the heart of this outrageous manoeuvre lies a deep, morbid distrust of the members and democracy. As SC member Jill Mountford (a member of the Alliance for Workers’ Liberty) puts it in her report: “Sam Wheeler and Jon Lansman spent far too much time arguing that local groups and the regional committees were undemocratic and unrepresentative.”

Again, this is a true observation from Lansman. And again, it is monumental hypocrisy. This democratic shortfall is precisely the fault of his exclusive team who currently run Momentum. The truth is this:

  • Momentum branches are forbidden to send emails to all Momentum members in their area. All communications must be routed through Momentum nationally, presumably so the content can be vetted.
  • Momentum branches have been told not to bring their members together in constituencies and wards to work to maximise their political impact in these geographical units of the party. This makes it very hard to effectively cohere the Labour left in these locales. The official reason for this restriction is that the Labour Party does not allow the affiliation of organisations with a ‘mirror’ structure, as the rule book dubs it. But then, Momentum is not affiliated to the Labour Party, it is not a party. Its members should be working together in cohesive units, sharing experiences and discussing in their democratic local forums the direction of their national organisation.
  • Apart from sending out insipid campaigning news, the Momentum leadership does not communicate with its members. There are no minutes, no reports, no agendas of the organisation’s committees. Some “key contacts”, as they are dubbed, in some branches sometimes receive a little information. A few of these comrades forward this intel to some other people some of the time. In effect this has helped to create local cliques that monopolise key information. The vast majority of Momentum membership have no idea of who runs their organisation, what decisions they take and how.

We reiterate, this is an anti-democratic coup. An affront to democracy. Momentum’s claims to represent some sort of clean “new kind of politics” is starting to look very grimy indeed. In truth, these methods borrow heavily from Stalinism and the repressive bureaucratism of rightwing Labourism.

Click here to see Labour Party Marxists’ alternative proposals for a democratically run conference. We are currently preparing a set of proposals on how Momentum as an organisation should be run and structured democratically.