Tag Archives: national committee

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).

Discussion papers from Momentum on the future of the organisation

These documents have unfortunately not been published openly or distributed to all Momentum members, so we reproduce them here.

Here is the “October newsletter for groups”, which has been sent to some members of some local Momentum groups, but not others.

 


 

“If you have any queries about the documents, please contact Momentum national organiser Emma Rees via emma.rees@peoplesmomentum.com.

1. Logistics for the NC

Date: Saturday 5th November
Time: 10.30am (for an 11am start) – 4.30pm
Location: BVSC, 138 Digbeth, Birmingham B5 6DR (fully accessible)
[Logistical details redacted]

2. Discussion papers

All regional networks should meet between now and 30th October. Organisers should inform emma.rees@peoplesmomentum.com (and CC bethfosterogg@gmail.com) of the details of the meeting, so they can ensure that delegates from all groups in the region are invited.

The regional network meeting may wish to:
a) Discuss the paper attached (agreed to be circulated by the Officers of the Steering Group)
b) Elect delegates to the National Committee (this is the choice of the region)
c) Submit any other motions or amendments. All motions must be sent to emma.rees@peoplesmomentum.com. If you have not received a confirmation of receipt email within 48 hours, please send again. The deadline for submitting motions is Monday 31st October.

Final papers will be circulated on Saturday 29th October.

https://goo.gl/rWk9Rw


Here is the file in PDF format

Paper 1 –  Process for deciding Momentum’s new structures

Rather than attempting to decide Momentum’s structures at the National Committee, a body which is now technically running beyond its mandate and is not fully elected, the Steering Committee is proposing that Momentum’s permanent structures be debated at a national conference, and voted on either by delegates at that conference or by all members. This conference will take place in February (there is a separate paper on its composition). The proposals we need to generate to go to that conference are not just about structures – they are also about what Momentum stands for and how we conduct ourselves.

So there are 3 kinds of documents that can be submitted:

  • Momentum’s core politics and guiding principles – what we stand for
  • Momentum’s ethics and code of conduct – how we behave
  • Momentum’s democratic structures – how we make decisions

The process that the Steering Committee is proposing is designed to be as open as possible – proposals can come directly from members, unmediated by the National Committee or any other parts of Momentum’s ‘centre’.
Phase 1 Begins: November 12th

Drafts to be submitted to HQ for circulation: November 19th Comments must be received at HQ by: December 9th

Revised documents submitted: January 9th (dates assume an early Feb conference. A later conference should involve an extension of phase 1)

All members of Momentum will have the right to formulate and propose documents on the above areas. Members’ proposals attracting the support of 50 individual members will be circulated in a document (the “initial proposers”). All members and local groups will be able to submit comments or suggested amendments which will be considered by the initial proposers who may accept or reject them, and revise their documents prior to the next stage. They may also composite their documents with others In order to progress to Phase 2, proposals will then need the support of: 200 individual members of Momentum.
Phase 2

Documents circulated: week commencing January 9th Ends: One week before conference

This stage is an opportunity for local groups to discuss the final documents in advance of the conference and for people to declare their support, in order for favoured documents to get over the final hurdle. The numbers required to reach Phase 3 are: 1000 individual members; or 20 local groups; or 400 members and 10 local groups

Phase 3

The vote

The vote will take place between all proposals that make it to conference by Preferential Vote. The question of who gets to vote, and how conference is composed, is in section 2.

Questions which you should discuss:

1. Do you agree with the broad process outlined, and if not, what should be used?

2. Do you agree with the 3 categories of paper outlined above?

3. Do you agree with the numbers needed to reach each stage, or are they too high or low?

4. Do you agree with the dates and timescales outlined above?

5. Do you have any other comments or suggestions?


Paper 2 – Momentum’s conference

The National Committee has already resolved (at its last meeting in May) that Momentum will hold a democratic conference in February 2017 in order to settle the permanent structures of the organisation. The text of the motion passed at the National Committee is as follows:
“We need a widely representative Momentum conference in order to empower the membership, push forward the development of our policy and activities, and allow groups to coordinate, network and become part of a national Momentum culture. We therefore agree to convene a democratic conference [in February 2017], representing local groups directly.”

We currently do not have an agreed delegate entitlement for the conference, or a firm idea of who can vote at it, other than that it will “represent local groups directly”. The Steering Committee has commissioned a mapping exercise of Momentum’s local groups in order to determine the size of membership and health of local organisation, and to enable us to assist in supporting local activity. This process is underway, and will feed into the delegate On the Steering Committee, there are different opinions as to how the conference should be composed.

These include:
– Delegates from local groups (according to their size)

– A mixed delegate system: delegates from local groups (according to their size) and regional ‘top up’ lists elected by OMOV in order to represent people who live in areas not covered by local groups

– No delegate system – the conference should be live-streamed and all Momentum members should be allowed to vote online
Questions which you should discuss:

1. Should voting at conference be by delegates, or by an online ballot of Momentum members?

2. If voting is by delegates, how should the delegate entitlement be calculated, and is it reasonable that a national committee only created as a temporary body whose composition is not necessary representative should decide the delegate entitlement?

3. Apart from Momentum’s core documents (Politics, Ethics, Structure), what else should Momentum conference vote on, if anything?

4. What kinds of sessions should the conference include? What should the agenda look like?

5. Do you have any additional ideas and proposals for the composition of conference?

Momentum or inertia?

As long as it is treated as the private property of its most timid elements, Momentum is doomed, argues Jim Grant of Labour Party Marxists

Ever since Momentum was formed out of the email lists left behind by Jeremy Corbyn’s first leadership run, the question has hung over it as to what it is actually for.

For its enemies, its purpose has always been clear – to organise mobs of Corbynite thugs for purposes of intimidation of moderates and seizure of the commanding heights of the Labour Party; or else as the black rat whose fur hides a multitude of Trotskyist parasites, as they infest the party at a scale unmatched since the 1980s. Its methods are crude, its motives questionable. It is riddled with misogynists and anti-Semites. It has no legitimacy, nor is its fanaticism constrained by moral scruple.

This account of Momentum’s motivation is somewhat at variance with empirical reality, but that is always a secondary concern for the bourgeois media.

A more wide-ranging discussion was had on the left on this point when the group first coalesced, which polarised on the question of what should be Momentum’s attitude to Labour Party activity. Many – especially among those non-Labour lefts who hoped Momentum might become a vehicle for them to reach the Corbynistas without having to take out a Labour card – argued for Momentum to dedicate itself to ‘campaigning’, and look outwards: a prescription for movementism. At the opposite end, there was Labour Party Marxists: so far as I know, we were the only organised force to call for Momentum to focus on dislodging the right at all levels of the Labour Party and strengthening the left institutionally. Initial discussions ended, in substance, with a fudge on this point.

Fiasco

When we ask what Momentum is for today, a year and a bit after its birth, it is – alas – in an increasingly exasperated tone. What is it for? During the second leadership campaign, its members were directed to the phone banks, as full-blooded members of Jeremy’s campaign; Momentum itself kept a low profile (despite periodic stupid accusations from Citizen Smith’s Westminster Popular Front, quite as inevitable as death and taxes). As the right cleaned up at Labour conference, Momentum herded itself away at a no doubt cheerful extended fringe event elsewhere, making exactly zero impact and leaving a few of the more serious (Max Shanly was quoted a lot) isolated in their opposition to making a ‘peace offering’ to the right.

Finally, Momentum’s role in the Jackie Walker fiasco is well documented. Comrade Walker was booted out as vice chair, in a 7-3 vote, after she made comments that were later fraudulently misrepresented by various species of bad actor as anti-Semitic. On this point, we turn to the Morning Star – while we have had cause to ridicule that paper in recent weeks, the October 5 editorial on l’affaire Walker was really rather stirring stuff: “Removing Jackie Walker from her position as Momentum vice-chair … is an act of political cowardice and confusion,” it read.

Atypically, the Star was even in the mood to name names:

Vanquished challenger Owen Smith paraded his political ignorance during the election campaign by accusing the Alliance for Workers’ Liberty … of “left anti-Semitism” – an absurd formulation comparable with left racism or left Islamophobia. In reality, this supposed ex-party has well-attested pro-Zionist credentials. Meeting a witch-hunt halfway is unprincipled and doomed to failure.

The line about left anti-Semitism being an “absurd formulation” is unfortunate – it is not so easy, alas, to excise Mikhail Bakunin, Pierre-Joseph Proudhon and Henry Hyndman from history. The thrust of the above statement is correct, however – and it has ruffled a few of the right feathers. Condemning “an unwarranted attack on Momentum”, which “failed to take seriously Jeremy Corbyn’s determination to rooting [sic] out the evil of anti-Semitism”, Momentum chair (in reality, proprietor) Jon Lansman replied the following Saturday in ridiculous but revealing terms. Walker’s comments were “ill-informed, ill-judged and offensive, though not anti-Semitic” (our emphasis). However, people would interpret them “in the context of earlier comments”, which have “made Jackie a focus of media attention especially on issues relating to anti-Semitism, which should have led Jackie to consider carefully whether to intervene in such discussions and to show great care if she did so”.

I invite readers to recall to mind the charge Lansman was trying to refute here – cowardice. Yet his explanation more or less states directly that, given some confected media calumny, the proper response for any Momentum member is craven silence (a stance copied by the Labour Representation Committee – it voted to condemn Momentum over the Walker affair – but then voted to keep its vote… secret). Certainly, if the media tells the right sort of lie about you, expect only backstabbing from the leadership. He invoked the anniversary of Cable Street, but Lansman’s piece would only be in the spirit of the famous battle if it had consisted entirely of the Jews of the East End conceding readily to the fascists that there really were rather too many Bolsheviks and traitors among them after all, and then throwing a few scapegoats out to their fate. What an insult.

Thus is the state of Momentum. It won’t turn a left-wing insurgency into votes at conference; it won’t allow any action minutely at variance with the attitude of the Labour leadership; the self-appointed leadership clique won’t even defend its own members against baseless slurs. So, indeed, what is Momentum for?

Whither the conference?

It is traditional on the left to correct a mistaken course at a conference – of members or delegates, as appropriate – although perhaps the appropriate nautical metaphor would be not course correction, but steadying a ship that is listing violently and in danger of following the Mary Rose into the drink. If there are disputes, or problems, sort them out democratically, before the whole membership, and beyond them the whole movement, inasmuch as the whole movement takes an interest. What’s not to love?

Well, evidently something, for we are still waiting. There are vague mutterings of a conference in February – we note that there have been mutterings before now, which have come to nought but further delays. The wrong conference, according to someone or other powerful enough to swing things, is a worse outcome than no conference at all.

This is plainly not a universal opinion. A document reaches us written by Jill Mountford of the AWL and Michael Chessum, who at this point may as well be a member of the same – the two voted alike, treacherously, when Walker’s case was before them.1)www.facebook.com/MomentumTeesside/posts/989609807852015 However ill-disposed we are to such elements, now of all times, there are reasons to welcome this document, for it is a proposed constitution (or at least the basis for one), to be debated at this February conference – which is definitely going to happen, honest.

It has good features and bad – on the plus side, conference is to be sovereign, the executive (or ‘steering committee’) is to be elected from among the leadership themselves (‘national committee’), and there are relatively few layers involved. On the other hand, the composition of the national committee as proposed is comically over-complicated; 25 members to be elected at conference, 25 in an atomised internet poll, two each for four “liberation campaigns” (we fear that comrade Chessum is hung up on his glory days as Great Helmsman of the University of London Union red base, and thus uses the NUS-ese for ‘caucus’), two more from a youth and students group, and two more for each affiliated union. Each of these groupings is to be individually gender-balanced. This ticks the usual tokenism boxes, with the (we’re sure) entirely unintentional side-effect of giving any small group 13 separate bites at the NC cherry, plus two for each trade union.

We will take such favours, of course; but we do not confuse them for real headway. There is a perfectly decent way to elect a leadership – at conference. Conference itself shall be sufficiently sovereign to decide the gender composition of the leadership, surely; or do Chessum and Mountford think that male chauvinism is best confronted not through open political combat, but by writing the correct numbers down in a constitution? Likewise, why do caucuses – ahem, sorry, “liberation campaigns” – need to be mandated in a constitution? Can people not – you know – just get on with it if they are so important? We are not waiting for a Marxists’ caucus to be formed from above to pursue our aims, and frankly we expect that, say, Jackie Walker – who insists against all reason that her misfortune is on account of her being black – will not wait either to pursue that particular line of argument.

This still leaves the issue of trade union affiliates. It is our opinion that there is little point in Momentum being a smaller copy of the Labour Party, with affiliates and all; far better to focus on developing a political line of attack and alternative to the right. Nonetheless, there are already trade union affiliates, and it would be pedantry to spend weeks recalibrating that relationship. If Momentum is to have an affiliate structure, however, why should we stop at unions? Why should there not be ‘socialist societies’ too? We wonder, with genuine curiosity, whether the AWL would be comfortable as an open affiliate. Labour Party Marxists, naturally, would welcome the opportunity.

Heads must roll

If there is any luck, the February conference will happen – or at least start to loom threateningly enough that Lansman and co will have to make serious excuses for it not happening – and a debate will be had, in the interim, about what shape Momentum ought to take.

Yet there are matters which are necessarily not covered in discussions of organisational structure; for we must in such discussions leave out the names of those who will fill the structure. Thus, if there is an opportunity for Momentum to democratically decide its leadership, it is a baseline requirement that Jon Lansman not be on it.

There is the obvious matter that he is one of seven current steering committee members who, by their betrayal of Jackie Walker, have placed themselves definitively outside the ranks of those able to lead anything: they are cowards – or else they are politically committed Zionists and thus apologists for heinous crimes. (Thus also – whatever the fate of their constitution – we look forward to the political exile of Chessum and Mountford.)

But look also at the reasoning, whereby he defends his conduct in relation to Walker – wielded like a cudgel is Jeremy Corbyn’s determination to root out anti-Semitism. When rank-and-file Corbynistas give rightwingers a piece of their mind, and get hauled up for ‘harassment’, the word comes down about obeying “Jeremy’s call for a kinder politics”, or whatever it happens to be; when the balance of power on the NEC is gift-wrapped by the leadership for the right, Lansman ensures that people are safely elsewhere. Corbyn vacillates and compromises, and so does John McDonnell; they are, after all, Labour lefts of the old school. It is part of who they are. Lansman’s role is to ensure that everyone else does as well. It is, after all, so terribly important to get the Tories out.

He has to go – along with the other six.

References

1 www.facebook.com/MomentumTeesside/posts/989609807852015