Momentum: New Politics Foundering?
Yes: But can Momentum Help?
Many on the left, including this Blog, welcomed the attempt to create new spaces of activism and debate on the left, outside of traditional political structures. But some people expressed the fear that Momentum, set up to expand Jeremy Corbyn’s political support, and to create a “new politics” would run quickly into the biggest reef of the British left-wing: the activities of small leftist organisations, parties and factions.
The wrecks littering these rocks are too numerous to count, but it was obvious that the intention of the Socialist Workers Party |(SWP) and the Socialist Party to get involved in Momentum would not be universally greeted.
Apart from the fact that the SWP is soemthing of a bugbear on many parts of the left, the SP’s belief that it had a right, indeed a duty, to participate oin Momentum to inform its supporters of the correct views of the party, which stood, with the SWP and others, as part of TUSC in the General Election, against Labour. They won, 36,327 votes, or 0.1% of the popular vote.
Both parties also backed the No2EU slate in the European Elections 2014 which totaled 31,757 votes or 0.2%. It declared it was an “internationalist platform. The UK state, free of the capitalist EU and in control of its own destiny, would means more solidarity with workers overseas. Some of the forces involved in the later bloc are known to be ‘sceptical’ about the free movement of labour inside the European Union.
One can see the potential there for disputes about Labour’s position in the coming referendum on membership of the European Union.
When efforts to thwart the possibility of small left wing groups lecturing Labour party members on how they act, run councils (setting illegal ‘anti-cuts’ budgets), remove right wing Labour MPs (deselection) the Socialist Party replied by stating,
If they exclude real fighters against austerity with experience on the ground – particularly Socialist Party supporters and others – they will weaken the ability of Corbyn and his forces to defeat the right. They will not succeed in fully harnessing the huge pro-Corbyn anti-austerity mood outside, which is not yet a real organised movement.
This letter appeared in the Weekly Worker seven days ago.
As part of the ongoing coverage of the divisions in the Labour Party over the issue of air strikes on Syria, Nancy Taaffe of the Socialist Party in England and Wales (formerly known as the Militant Tendency, covertly as the Revolutionary Socialist League) was interviewed on the BBC’s Daily Politics programme on December 3.
Comrade Taaffe hardly helped dispel the common image and depiction of the far left in this country as a bunch of swivel-eyed loons. Her facial expressions switched constantly between one of apparent ferocious hostility and a version of the rictus grinning we perhaps last saw from Gordon Brown. Although her head remained aimed at the camera, her eyes and attention seemed to be constantly distracted by something happening very high to her left, which added to the unsettling effect.
Comrade Taaffe identified herself a number of times as a member of the Socialist Party and that she had stood as a candidate in the general election on behalf of “Tusc” (Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition), without explanation of what that was or stood for, which must have confused and mystified the audience.
She ‘demanded’ that the Labour Party deselect the MP for Walthamstow, Stella Creasy, and went on to ‘demand’ that Labour convene an immediate special conference to reintroduce mandatory reselection for MPs, and also that the Socialist Party be allowed to affiliate to the Labour Party in the same way as does the Cooperative Party.
The breathtaking hypocrisy, impertinence and arrogance of the ultra-left never fails to astonish me. SPEW was formed after its leading members were out-performed by Neil Kinnock in the 1980s and expelled from Labour as a ‘party within a party’. They then declared that Labour was henceforth dead as a bourgeois workers’ party with any potential for being transformed into a workers’ party (because they were no longer in it!), and took no part whatsoever in the recent Corbyn leadership campaign, on the basis of that being a complete waste of time, it being impossible to “resurrect a corpse”.
Having been proved completely and utterly wrong, you might have expected some humility and reflection, but, no, SPEW is apparently now placing demands on how the Labour Party should conduct its internal democracy, calling on individual CLPs to deselect their MPs, and for it be allowed to affiliate.
It all reminded me of the set-piece debate of the decade in the early 1980s between the self-styled ‘revolutionary left’ and the then Bennite Labour left, when people like Paul Foot and Tariq Ali were demanding the Labour Party transform itself into a socialist party, get rid of rightwing Labour MPs, adopt in effect Trotsky’s Transitional programme and then, after doing all that hard work, open it up to allow outside groups like the SWP and International Marxist Group to come in and join. As Audrey Wise MP, speaking for the Labour left at the time, said, “Big deal, big deal, big prizes … Not.”
Tony Benn during that debate denounced the “socialist groups” as not being genuine revolutionaries at all, but as “left-talking revolutionists” – ie, they talk the talk, shout and criticise from the sidelines, raise ‘demands’ which can never be met, but have very little connection or engagement with the very real and ‘actually existing’ labour movement and wider social forces which will be required to bring about genuine social change and revolutionary transformation.
I think socialists and revolutionaries who are outside the party should treat the Labour membership – especially its new membership – with considerable respect. It is fine to have political, strategic and tactical differences, but these need to be debated and worked through in a spirit of constructive engagement, and not through the placing of impossible ‘demands’.
This may allow some of the socialist groups to become part of the Labour Party, providing they show respect and adherence to its aims and values, as well as its constitution, and do not try and subvert its democracy, or its basis as the mass political party of the organised labour movement.
As Chris Knight suggested in the recent reprints of his two extremely interesting and thought-provoking articles (September 24 and October 8), the Labour Party can and should become the “parliament” of the labour and working class movement. It cannot itself become the ‘revolutionary vanguard’, and the socialist groups should not attempt to make it so.
We should also be aware the Labour Party needs to increase its support by millions of votes by the time of the next election, if it is to form a government, and these millions are likely to be people who are motivated by values of respect, tolerance and solidarity, rather than by hostility, aggression, dog-fighting and point-scoring between the sects and factions.
There have been many reports of “problems” in Momentum groups – difficulties which are not the invention of those hostile to Jeremy Corbyn.
This has just appeared.
The first meeting in Manchester of ‘Momentum’ may be the last. We hope not, and many there meant well, but activists who have lived in the Labour Party a long time as well as the hopeful newcomers were caught in a contradiction, between structure and an attempt to avoid it. A young career-track politician from London called ‘Sam’ quickly told us what we all knew – that Momentum was set up to organise in the Labour Party in support of the new Jeremy Corbyn leadership – and then the splits started to open up. Each division revolved around the very questions of democracy and ‘new politics’ that Corbyn’s election promised. And each bitter attack was made in the name of a new ‘openness’ in the Labour Party that recalled the old debates prompted by anarchist feminist activists nearly half a century ago over the nature of ‘structure’ and what Jo Freeman in a classic little pamphlet once called ‘The Tyranny of Structurelessness’.
An apocryphal story is circulating now in the north of Britain about a young woman comrade who joined a Left Unity branch to find that many of the activists were there to promote their own little organisation. Escape from this wretched situation opened up with the election of Jeremy Corbyn, so she gave up on Left Unity and joined her local branch of the Labour Party to find that same little organisation spouting the same line, they had now moved in with a new front organisation. There were those who ridiculed ‘safe spaces’ in Left Unity, and put their theory into practice in almost every meeting, ensuring that only those with very thick skins – or those with bodyguards around them who were from their own organisation – returned after being subjected to what these very structured sectarians like to call the ‘cut and thrust of political argument’. These people can be friendly enough chatting before and after the meeting, but behave very differently when following orders from the leading group inside their own organisation when they think they should be implementing a ‘line’
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