Save Momentum from Saboteurs – Owen Jones. Statement by Momentum (External Faction, Majority ‘A’ Tendency).
People’s Front (British Left Training Manuel).
Before I begin this I note the following:
- When Momentum was set up there were discussions by long-standing left-wing activists, members of the Labour Party and/or Trade Unions, engaged in anti-austerity campaigning and a variety of social movements. The potential for small organised left groups to join Momentum, bathing in the reflected glory of Jeremy Corbyn, and use it for their own ends it was noted. One sectarian group, the Socialist Party even went so far as to try to set up its own front, called Trade Union Momentum, in order to recruit for their organisation (Steps towards setting up Trade Union Momentum. The Socialist. 9th of January 2016).
- The principal problem appeared to be the presence of groups trying to recruit for their ‘party building’. That is, to split off (as they call it) the ‘centrists’ and ‘populist’ left from the dyed-in-the-wool ‘reformists’ and get them to join their own ranks, either overtly or in classic ‘entryist’ style, through various ‘fronts’ (one might envisage something like the ‘socialist platform’ in Momentum.
- Leading figures in Momentum, notably Jon Lansman, were informed – repeatedly informed of these concerns. This is because the core of the original Momentum leadership are people we know and hardly unaware of this kind of thing. They were said to agree with us.
- Having expressed these views, and stated my own belief, that the Labour party should be encouraged to develop as a modern inclusive democratic socialist party, and not badgered from a half-in half-out group, I was encouraged by Momentum’s initial development. Notably its support for the Other Europe is Possible campaign, supporting a Remain Vote in the Referendum.
- I and many others from the European democratic left side have not been encouraged by the launch of an “our Brexit” campaign linked with Momentum without the members being consulted.
- I finally note that it the divisions in Momentum cannot be described as simply between “young idealistic” social movement types and older ‘Trotskyists’. The Trotskyists are battling ‘older’ people, and not all ‘Trotskyists’ are ‘old’, far from it. The way the decision on ‘Our Brexit’ ( just cited) was reached raises concerns wider than any of these splits.
It is, these points in mind, hardly out of the blue that the present crisis has happened.
Comrade Owen begins,
These are the things I want to write about, not the internal woes of the left. The left has had something of a reputation for turning infighting into an art form, immortalised by that People’s Front of Judea sketch in Monty Python’s Life of Brian. But an emergent crisis in Britain’s left is so serious that, sadly, it cannot be ignored.
Momentum – the grassroots movement set up in the aftermath of Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership victory – is currently facing a takeover bid by Trotskyist sectarians. If they succeed, Momentum will be destroyed. The most prominent sectarian figures are embittered veterans of struggles from the 1970s and 80s, people who have only experienced defeat, and who won’t let an unexpected opportunity afforded by the seismic political developments of the last two years slip through their fingers. This is their last chance.
They jump from organisation to organisation, and are adept at manipulating internal structures for their own advantage: sitting out long boring meetings, coordinating interventions, playing victim when it suits. They’re not interested in say, door-to-door campaigning, but rather in debating their obscure pet issues with long-winded interventions at meetings on a Thursday evening.
The only point that really strikes home is the lack of ‘door-to-door campaigning’.
But this is not a fault unique to the ‘sectarians’.
One could argue that setting up a parallel organisation to normal Labour bodies is bound to divert energy away from this kind of grass-roots work.
Owen strays into perhaps excessive prose in the following,
Their opponents are younger, idealistic, campaign-oriented and pluralistic, lacking Machiavellian strategic ability – all of which the sectarians exploit. The sectarians smear their opponents as rightwingers, Stalinists, bureaucrats, as having ulterior and sinister motives (this article will be dismissed as the work of a rightwing establishment careerist in the service of a Guardian conspiracy to destroy the left). Everything goes wrong, they believe, not because of their own almost farcical strategic ineptitude, but because of the betrayal of others. Momentum offers hope to young people who have long been demoralised by politics. Those wrecking Momentum – if they succeed – could destroy that hope, and that is unforgivable.
It is wrong to call these forces “Trotskyist sectarians” as if there is a common unity amongst them.
This is not classic ‘entryism’: there are very diverse groups. Some of them work well with other people on particular objectives – such as promoting a social Europe, or, say defending secular democratic demands in Iran. It is true, in a very general sense, that many of them refer to the Russian Revolution and Lenin (something I personally cannot empathise with). Others – I am thinking of former members of Left Unity – have more in common with 1970s New Left radical groups than with the kind of moribund organisations at present hanging on as the Socialist Party and Socialist Workers Party. Some of the opponents of the Momentum leadership have their own personal agenda, which appears to derive more from identity politics than the left, sectarian or not.
These are small groups, groupuscles if you will, or just alliances of affinity. There is no common unity – just cite the words Israel and Zionism, and, hey, see! – except on organisational issues within Momentum.
It is therefore not just false but highly speculative to claim that,
the sectarians are highly disciplined, highly organised, and highly experienced. The interests of their own sects are far more important than any movement. Only their sect, they believe, has the correct politics: everybody else’s are fatally flawed. They have no faith in the Labour party. Momentum, for them, is an embryonic political party. The prize is Momentum’s contact data, containing the details of tens of thousands of people. At an opportune time, they will walk away from Labour and found a new party, which will get 300 votes in a byelection. They will triumphantly hail these as 300 votes for socialism.
The ‘new party’ line, which is the decrepit Socialist Party’s objective, is too marginal even to bother with.
Having said this I must say that the following struck home:
Take the barrister Nick Wrack, one of the sectarian leaders. Last year he stood for the catchily named Trade Union and Socialist Coalition in Camberwell and Peckham, and secured 0.6% of the vote. There’s no life for the left in the Labour party, he told me in 2014.“Time for [a] new party that stands for socialism,” he lectured me before the general election. I was right to call for more working-class representation, he tells me, “but it won’t come from Labour,” he tells me, after Labour’s defeat.
Owen forgets: membership of the SWP, Respect, the Socialist Alliance, the Independent Socialist Network, and a host of other groups……
And, “Nick worked as a journalist for the socialist newspaper Militant. He became its editor in 1994.”
But surely these are sectarian points?
And is this a fair summary of the other side?
The younger Momentum protagonists aligned to Lansman – who himself has gone on a political journey away from top-down structures – are known as “movementists”: those who dislike hierarchies and who are attracted by social movements.
There are problems, which Owen chose to ignore in his introduction to this book, about ‘movementist’ democracy. In Podemos: In the Name of the People’ by Chantal Mouffe and Íñigo Errejón (foreword by Owen Jones) Jones celebrated this party’s success. But its own “democracy on-line” has worked to consolidate the party leadership. Critics, whom we have covered at length on this Blog, have asserted that Podemos is now organised on a “Pyramidal” “vertical” basis. It is said to have led to the withering away of the “circles” at the base of Podemos. It has, to put it simply, not been able to create structures – to many critics – that are markedly better than the old system. Podemos is now undergoing its own internal ‘factional battles, though one has to recognise that it’s on a healthy basis, that is, with real policy alternatives at stake.
I am not a member of Momentum, to the reasons I outlined at the start. Some elderly local people may be.
But it would seem that some kind of synthesis between these systems could be devised.
This would surely be preferable to this call for Armageddon:
….Jeremy Corbyn. An intervention by him would stop Momentum being taken over, allowing its rebirth as an open, campaign-focused movement. Without that, the sectarians will win. They must be stopped in their tracks. So much hope, so much optimism. We can’t let it end in rancour and betrayal.
Reports on Saturday 3d December Momentum Meeting Round-Up – Clarion.