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Momentum’s Crisis: Serious Debate Breaks Out.

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Image result for chesterfield socialist conference

From Socialist Movement to…..Momentum?

“Momentum exists to build on the energy and enthusiasm from the Jeremy Corbyn for Labour Leader campaign to increase participatory democracy, solidarity, and grassroots power and help Labour become the transformative governing party of the 21st century.”

A common assumption on the Labour Left, so deep rooted that it almost never said, is that the main failure of previous Parliamentary left groupings is that they needed organisation in the country. At the back of their minds I imagine are the “Brains Trusts” set up up in support of Bevan’s ideas in the 1950s, the Campaign for Labour Party Democracy in the 70s and 80s, and the Socialist Movement.

If the first had problems in moblising and co-ordinating with the Parliamentary left around  Aneurin Bevan and his (dispersed) successors, the second was and is a grass-roots body focused on labour constitutional issues (MP re-selection), NEC elections,  the third came closest to the Social Movement model some saw in Momentum.

The Socialist Movement grew out of the Socialist Conferences held in Chesterfield, Sheffiled and Manchester, in the years following the defeat of liners’ strike. Initiators included the Socialist Society, an organisation of left intellectuals including Raymond Williams,  Richard Kuper, and Ralph Miliband, the Campaign Group, a left-wing group in the Labour Party, the Conference of Socialist Economists, and the network generated by the socialist feminist book Beyond the Fragments. The largest conferences were in 1987 and 1988.

The Socialist Movement was open to different left traditions, green as well as red, for exploratory, grassroots debate and research on socialist policy making.

A lot of water has passed under the bridge since then.

Is Momentum A Socialist Conference bis?

Unlike the Chesterfield events, still cresting the ebbing Bennite wave, its role was not clear from the start.

Is ‘participatory democracy’ channeled into supporting Corbyn the Labour Leader?

That would result in the kind of ‘left populism’ attempted by Jean Luc Mélenchon  in La France Insoumise and (in a different more democratic way) Podemos’s Pablo Iglesias, around a rather unlikely figure, who, to his credit has always refused the role of Chief around which everything else revolves.

Or does it mean trying to work in the policy areas that the Socialist Movement tried to think out? Given that Labour seems short of clear policies on a variety of issues – the Welfare state, a recent announcement of a group looking into Basic Income might be one sector where Momentum could contribute?

What structures does it have for this purpose?

Does it mean taking up issues of ‘grassroots power’, which many would take to imply changing the Labour Party’s present make-up with a “movement” that moblises on more than electoral issues?

Or is to be a kind of super Bevanite Brain’s Trust, that Bean never managed to hook up with, that can carry Corbyn’s message from the party into the country?

These are just some of the background issues behind the present crisis in Momentum.

The most recent Workers’ Liberty carries this exchange:  A debate about Momentum   (Solidarity. 15.2.17).

“This explanation by Jon Lansman of recent events in Momentum was circulated in the Campaign for Labour Party Democracy. Since it contains nothing confidential, and is the only political explanation available from the Momentum leadership other than the article by Christine Shawcroft in Labour Briefing (Feb 2017), which we replied to last week, we reprint it here.”

Jon Lansman.

I wanted also to counter the lies and misinformation which are widely repeated by sectarian elements on the Left who wish to turn Momentum from a broad alliance it was intended to be, seeking to maintain the broad centre-left coalition that elected Jeremy Corbyn to support his administration, democratise the party along the lines long advocated by CLPD, and help Labour win elections into a hard-Left organisation reminiscent of the LRC designed to put pressure on Jeremy from the left.

There has been no “coup” within Momentum, though there had been an attempt over the last year by various Trotskyist and other sectarian organisations to use Momentum local groups, often at the cost of driving away non-aligned activists, as a basis for seizing control of regional networks and the former national committee of Momentum. It became very clear how wide the disparity had become between these bodies and the membership of Momentum from the survey conducted in conjunction with a pre-Christmas message from Jeremy Corbyn.

Lansman takes account of what observers have predicted for months, that a National Momentum Conference risked becoming a sectarian bear-pit,

  • We could battle for two months in the run up to a planned national delegate conference narrowly foisted on the national committee — with some delegates who disagreed being forced to vote in favour in spite of having been elected by STV in order to preserve the pluralism of regional representatives, which would inevitably have undermined efforts to maximise left representation at this year’s conference, support local Momentum activists in preparing for CLP AGMs, and mobilise for by-elections and a possible early general election.
  • We could avoid this internal battle, by calling immediate elections for a new national body based on a new constitution reflecting the wishes of members as revealed in the survey and circulated for agreement of members in the way we would have had to do at some point anyway.

Avoiding this predictable fight was the goal.

This is something critics have to grapple with.

Lansman  also notes,

I have personally been subjected to appalling abuse to which it is difficult to respond without simply perpetuating their attempt to personalise “blame” for the alleged wrongs of which they unfairly accuse me. I regret that Martin [Thomas] has chosen to act in this way. I have worked with him within CLPD since the early 1980s. I have done so because he and his colleagues from Socialist Organiser, as his organisation was originally known, showed a genuine commitment to CLPD they never showed to the LRC or any other left organisations in which they pursued the opportunistic self-interested methods we are used to from all Trotskyist sects.

I halt at this point because there is little doubt that Jon Lansman is absolutely right to complain about the abuse.

This is how one of his leading critics, Tony Greenstein, thought by some people to be a “genius” described his action in promoting an on-line survey of Momentum members,  all too recently ( Jon Lansman’s Xmas Punch Could Sucker Corbyn)

There is a reason that dictators have always loved plebiscites.  That is because they get to choose the questions and to frame them in such a way that they get the ‘right’ answer. Most people won’t remember Hitler’s plebiscites on the Rhine and the Saarland but they haven’t had a very good reputation ever since.

Greenstein some might say is a special case, whose vitriol is hurled  at present lie at another target:  Owen Jones – the Final Betrayal – Supporting Zionist Apartheid & the Jewish Labour Movement.  Supporting Israeli Apartheid and the Palestinians is not compatible.

But he is far from alone.

It would take a moment’s Googling to find more abuse.

Now Alan Thomas is, from the AWL, a respected activist and writer, but his reply on this point, is not convincing,

Jon Lansman identifies “sectarian elements” almost entirely with us (“Trotskyists”), but at the same time finds these “sectarians” so numerous among Momentum’s 21,000 members that the clash can be resolved only by abolishing Momentum democracy. At stake here is no “sectarianism” of ours, but the issue of what socialism is and how it can be won.

The liberation of the working class can be won only by a vivid movement where each participant is a lively contributor with her or his own ideas; which is full of bouncy debate; in which even the deepest prejudices and the most revered leaders are subject to question. In a new movement like Momentum, we have reasoned patiently and tactfully, rather than bloviating.

I leave to one side the claims about the AWL, often made by people with their own political – ‘sectarian’ agenda.

The fact is that if we can define sectarians at all – a hard task –  it is that they are loudmouths who are in a permanent storm of self-righteous attack.

Often they come out of the pages of William Hazlitt’s People with One Idea,

People of the character here spoken of, that is, who tease you to death with some one idea, generally differ in their favourite notion from the rest of the world; and indeed it is the love of distinction which is mostly at the bottom of this peculiarity.

Table Talk : Essays on Men and Manners (1821 -22)

Other times they are loyal simply to their faction, with no other loyalties.

Those familiar with the left could write a new essay, People with Too Many Correct Ideas…

One is always the Other Sectarian for a Sectarian…..

But I digress…

There are many other problems about Momentum, but whether they are numerous or not, they are still loud. Shouty. And, in Greenstein’s case – I single him out for his visibility but he is far from alone –  highly unpleasant.

Greenstein and another ‘anti-Zionist’. Gerry Downing, are very active in the Momentum Grassroots Moblising Conference. 

This is what the former says, “Lansman’s Momentum is destined for the knackers yard because without democracy you cannot have a movement.”

More simply many people do not want to become involved in a shouting match between different left groups, or, if it happens on more cordial terms, a struggle for influence.

Alan is nevertheless spot on to comment,

Yet Momentum would have contributed more, not less, if it had actively promoted a left Remain vote, free movement across borders, opposition to Trident renewal. It would be stronger now if its national office as well as its local groups had campaigned in support of workers’ disputes like at Picturehouse, and for the NHS. It would have done better if (as we urged) it had organised a presence at Labour conference 2016. It would be healthier if it had had a proper discussion on left antisemitism (in which Jon Lansman and we would have been broadly on the same side), rather than trying to quell the issue administratively. All those things are not “sectarian” caprices, but would have happened if Momentum had been allowed to develop “normally”, democratically.

This is something that Lansman ignores, many people on the democratic left, and this includes the AWL agree on these policies.

We certainly need a voice for them.

Alan may equally well be often right to say,

The new imposed constitution is out of line even with the (heavily manipulated) online survey over Christmas. That suggested decisions by online voting of all members. Under the new constitution, online votes can scarcely even stall office decisions in extreme cases. Real power rests with the office and with a seldom-meeting “coordinating group” in which only 12 out of 28 or 32 places are elected by Momentum members.

10 January was a coup. Imagine its analogue in general politics: Theresa May declares that, on the strength of a 50%-plus-one majority got in an hour’s emailing round the Cabinet, she is abolishing Cabinet, Parliament, and an imminent general election in favour of office rule plus a future “coordinating group” in which elected citizens’ representatives are a minority. Or, if that’s too much, imagine the analogue in any other left movement. Despite it all, Momentum’s local groups will continue to organise, and I don’t think the panic-stricken officials can stop them.

But the real issue is not an organisational form, and behind that whether this or that factional grouping, or alliance, is competing for power in the structures.

It is what aims and functions  does Momentum have beyond rallying support for Corbyn.

Nothing that’s happened so far has disproved the judgement of many left-wingers that clear goals, from ‘think tank’ policy-formulating (that is as a pressure group within Labour with specific ideas), and a hook between Labour and a variety of campaigns (such as Stop Trump!, or union disputes) already have vehicles in Constituency parties, Trades Councils and other bodies.

Many of us are all in favour of Momentum finding some way out of this dispute, a modus vivendi.

But…..

Momentum includes people like Nick Wrack who state (RETHINKING LABOUR: MORE OF THE SAME OR CHANGE OF COURSE?)

… it is important to recognise that there is a huge difference – a vast chasm – between what is called social democracy and socialism or communism. I use socialism and communism as synonyms for a system that is based on a complete transformation of society, breaking with the present capitalist system and the exploitation of labour to make profit. Socialism is a society based on democratic common ownership of the means of production – land, factories, transport, technology and science. It is a society based on production for social need rather than for private profit.

…..I am now of the opinion that all Marxists should, at the very least, join Momentum. We can play a key role in helping to defend Corbyn and defeating the right. Where possible, therefore, Marxists should also join Labour. This is best done as an organised group, rather than as individuals. The purpose of joining is two-fold: to strengthen the forces in defence of Corbyn and against the rightwing in Labour and the trade unions and to argue for a Marxist ideas in the mass movement around Corbyn. There is no knowing how long this battle may last or what the outcome will be. Those coming into Momentum and into the Labour Party will include thousands of people who simply want change. But many will have no clear idea of what that change should be or how it can be accomplished. Marxists have to engage with the debate. What change? How can it be achieved? What programme is necessary?

So what is he doing trying to join or influence a social democratic party?

Wrack’s position, which is shared by others,  is not so easy to dismiss as the notorious cranks who insult ‘reformists’ , ‘Zionists’ and the rest.

It is, crudely, that Momentum should be a kind of political mill pond for them to fish in to build their ‘Marxist’ line.

Never forgetting the “vast chasm” that separates them from social democracy, that is a very substantial chunk of the Labour Party membership and support.

Written by Andrew Coates

February 17, 2017 at 1:31 pm

Momentum Opposition Turns on Jeremy Corbyn.

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Labour Party Marxists: Corbyn’s disastrous intervention in Momentum.

“what increasingly looks like an existential crisis in Momentum drives us to get in touch again. Jeremy Corbyn has taken a stand on this controversy – but unfortunately, on the wrong side.”

Jeremy Corbyn‘s letter to all Momentum members:

Dear friend,

Momentum grew out of our first campaign for a new kind of politics, to channel its drive and optimism into a movement that can help Labour win power and transform our society. That enthusiasm is already changing our movement and the country’s political debate on crucial issues like austerity.

As 2016 draws to a close, I wanted to share some thoughts about how that could be developed further and ask you to share yours.

‘The World Transformed’ at Labour Party Conference and new techniques to increase participation in Labour, such as the Grassroots Now phone-canvassing website, are exactly the participatory activities Momentum can organise to help secure a Labour government that will rebuild and transform Britain. Let’s do it together; Labour’s next big campaigning day is on 21 January. I hope you’ll join us for it.

This moment in our history is too important for us not to seize it. We must not let internal debate distract from our work that has to be done to help Labour win elections.

Momentum needs to be an organisation fit for purpose – not copying the failed models of the past but bringing fresh ideas to campaigning and organising in communities, helping members be active in the Labour Party and helping secure a Labour government to rebuild and transform Britain.

That’s why the Momentum team has drawn up a survey to give every member a direct say in its future.

We are all part of this historic movement. Let’s seize this moment together.

Thank you for all that you have done in 2016. I wish you a Merry Christmas, a peaceful holiday period and a happy new year.

In solidarity,

Jeremy Corbyn

Labour Party Marxists. Latest Bulletin.

In a December 20 email to every member of Momentum, Jeremy Corbyn warns that, “We must not let internal debate distract from our work that has to be done to help Labour win elections.” There are two clear implications from Corbyn’s intervention. One, that he believes the controversy about accountability and internal democracy is just diversionary chatter. Second, that the Labour leader is on board with Jon Lansman’s plan to do without a democratic conference, elected delegates, self-activating local branches, regional committees, etc. Instead, the wonders of “participatory activities” like “phone-canvassing” are recommended, along with events such as the September 2016 (non-voting) ‘The World Transformed’.

Corbyn’s communiqué was followed by similar emails fronted by Diane Abbott and Clive Lewis to all 160,000 contacts on Momentum’s database. Momentum members and supporters are asked to complete a ‘survey’ which – in addition to commonplace queries about their current activities and Momentum’s future campaigning work – asks them to opt for either a delegate-based-conference or decisions to be made by atomised individuals via online plebiscites, misleadingly summarised as “One Member, One Vote” (Omov).

It would be a shock if this survey does not deliver the result ‘Team Momentum’ wants (ie, Omov – no democratic conference). They have phrased the questions. They will count and interpret the results. They decide when, where and how these results are disseminated and used. It’s a done deal, we anticipate.

The current issue of the Weekly Worker features Mike Macnair on the anti-democratic nature of referendums, including the membership ‘survey’ just sent out by Lansman & Co. Take a look – it’s useful stuff.

It is quite clear that this ‘survey’ scam is intended to trump the decisions of the December 3 meeting of the National Committee and the subsequent deliberations of its Conference Arrangements Committee. Proposals from the CAC (which has a 4-3 leftwing majority) on how conference should be organised were supposed to be sent out on December 16. But, six days later, ‘Team Momentum’ is still sitting on the info and refusing to disseminate it to the membership – you can read them on our website. (Remember, ‘Team Momentum’ can get away with this crass behaviour because Jon Lansman owns the Momentum database and can do with it whatever he feels – a scandalous arrangement in any leftwing organisation.)

Faced with this, the CAC has quite correctly decided to act unilaterally, has set up its own Facebook page and started to publish details of their proposals. The comrades are not taking Lansman’s undemocratic manoeuvring lying down. Excellent. But of course, they can reach far fewer members given the Lansman database monopoly.

We can pretty much write the script for Lansman for when his ‘survey’ results are in. He will try to cancel the democratic conference planned for February ‘in light of the overwhelming mandate in favour of Omov…’ All very predictable. Nevertheless, we urge Momentum members to complete the survey … but to denounce the whole fraud and don’t trust the results!

“Fraud” “scandalous”,  “scam”: the Momentum crisis is  not cooling down over this Merry Christmas….

For a more profound contribution to Momentum discussions see: Policy and purpose are missing from the OMOV debate  by Edd Mustill.

I agree that the current debate is happening back-to-front. We are discussing Momentum’s structures without having openly discussed and decided upon the purpose of the organisation. When Momentum was founded in late 2015, it should either have been launched with a specific, well-defined purpose in mind, or come to an agreement on its purpose very quickly, but neither of these things happened. Meanwhile, the large numbers of people who were drawn into Labour politics by the Corbyn campaign’s victory started doing what came naturally: they turned up to their local Labour meetings, and they started meeting together as like-minded activists.

This quickly led to a situation where people developed a very strong affinity with Momentum as a name, an organisation, or (*shudder*) a “brand,” without having necessarily reached any agreement about what it was all for. Being a “Momentum person” could mean all sorts of things, politically, to different people. Ironically, this is similar to the situation in the Labour Party, where everyone professes to holding “Labour values” despite this being an ill-defined phrase which can mean twenty different things to ten different people.

It is this strong sense of ownership over the organisation on the part of its rank-and-file supporters, coupled with a lack of a clear definition of the organisation’s purpose, which has made a seemingly arcane debate about committees so bitter and fractious at times. The structures debate is a cipher for all sorts of other political disagreements. We should have first established our purpose and adopted a structure best suited to that purpose.

The rest of the article is readable through above link.

Written by Andrew Coates

December 23, 2016 at 1:10 pm

Lansman to Stay and Fight in Momentum.

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Socialist Fight

Landsman Acts, but what is the Line of the LCFI? 

Jon Lansman vows stay in Momentum

Jeremy Corbyn ally’s move follows claims that grassroots group has been taken over by Trotskyists and could split. Guardian.

His first comments on the group’s internal crisis come as the activist accused of leading an alleged Trotskyist takeover said Lansman himself had first raised the prospect of a split last month.

Jill Mountford, who is on the organisation’s steering committee, said that far from being pushed out, Lansman appeared to be reacting to changes to the democratic structures which meant that he could no longer control it.

Lansman in turn indicated that he had not yet given up on the organisation he set up and whose database he controls. “Of course I’m not walking away from Momentum, but I do take the disenfranchisement of most of our 21,000 members very seriously,” he said.

“I don’t want to control Momentum. I want a pluralist organisation that supports Jeremy Corbyn, democratises the Labour party and helps us win the next general election.”

Tensions over control of the organisation emerged on Monday when Momentum’s women’s officer, Laura Murray, wrote a blog claiming that members of the Alliance for Workers’ Liberty and others were seeking to wrest control from its founder.

Murray claimed that Mountford had been at the forefront of a takeover, had bullied younger members, reducing one to tears, and ultimately wanted to form a new political party with the organisation.

Mountford, who has been a member of the AWL for 33 years, denies bullying, taking over the organisation or wanting to form a new party.

She claims to have been shocked when Lansman raised the prospect of a split in the organisation at a meeting on 27 November. He did so after it became apparent that he may not get his way over the organisation’s structures, she said.

“The only person who has said there is going to be a split was Jon Lansman. He said: ‘Well I warn you now. If this goes through there will be a split in Momentum.’ That was news to all of us. I have time and respect for Jon but he has not behaved well. I think he has been trying to carve Momentum up so he can control it,” she said.

AWL Statement: Momentum: for unity! Simon Nelson.

After the Momentum national committee on Saturday 3 December voted that Momentum should have a decision-making delegate conference – just that was the big controversial decision! – figures on the fringes of Momentum, and some within it, have launched a social-media and mass-media outcry against Workers’ Liberty and Solidarity.

This outcry should be resisted with an insistence on unity, a focus on positive campaigning, and a refusal to let the mass media or the Labour machine’s notorious Compliance Unit split us.

Although we were only a small part of the 3 December meeting, the whole majority is being denounced as manipulated, controlled, or even bullied by the few Workers’ Liberty people, and the decision to have a democratic conference as a “Trotskyist takeover”.

Some people are signalling that they want to split Momentum on this issue. Our reply is clear:
The majority is much broader than us. It is not controlled by us.

We, and as far as we know all the majority, are totally for unity and against a split. Momentum should unite to fight the Tories and the Labour right wing.

We are not even “hard-liners” on the organisational issues. We, and the majority, do want democracy in Momentum: we believe democracy is necessary for stable unity. But we always have been, and are, open to dialogue and compromise about modalities, details, forms.

We have kept our tone comradely. We have repeatedly sought off-the-record discussions with those who led the minority on 3 December to explore adjustments, common ground, maximisation of consensus.

The ones who are reluctant to compromise, and who run their debates in tones of violent denunciation of those disagree with them, are elements in the minority, and, even more, their media outriders, who are not even active in Momentum.

The writer Paul Mason told the BBC Daily Politics on 8 December that, although he had “never been to a Momentum meeting”, he demanded a purge. “If Jill Mountford [a National Committee member of Momentum]… remains basically an expelled member of the Party and remains in Momentum, I will not remain in Momentum”.

Labour “auto-excluded” 618 members during the Labour leadership contest this summer, and 1038 members are still suspended, according to figures at the last Labour NEC. Thousands more left-wingers (no-one knows exactly) were expelled or suspended during the 2015 leadership contest. Many of those expelled are long-standing Labour Party members, whom no-one talked of expelling during the Blair, Brown, or Miliband years.

Until now the left has agreed that we do not trust the Compliance Unit’s decisions on who should or shouldn’t be allowed in the Labour Party. Momentum has voted to oppose the purge. Other left groups like the Campaign for Labour Party Democracy have a long-standing policy of including unjustly expelled left-wingers.

The Compliance Unit wants to split the left. We should not allow them to do that.

Remember: the Compliance Unit could well expel Paul Mason – he is an ex-member of a Trotskyist group, and surely has said unkind things about Labour right-wingers on social media.

Owen Jones, another figure on the fringe of Momentum, another one who could well be expelled by the Compliance Unit if they choose, has used the Guardian to claim that the issue in Momentum is “a takeover bid by Trotskyist sectarians”.

Mason, Jones, and others should put aside their megaphones. They should come and discuss the best way to build unity and effective campaigning for Momentum.

Voting was quite closely divided on 3 December, but delegates agreed on a decision-making national conference, to be on 18 February, 25 February, or 4 March. Both local groups and individuals (via the online platform MxV) will be able to submit motions to the conference. The existing Steering Committee will remain in place until after the conference. The 3 December meeting elected a conference arrangements committee.

We were not in the majority on everything, but we are confident that the 3 December decisions will command a broad consensus in most of Momentum’s local groups.

As Michael Chessum, a Momentum Steering Committee member (and not one of us), has said: “[if the meeting was polarised] The Steering Committee has to accept the lion’s share of the responsibility …. By bypassing and undermining the national committee – a body to which it was technically subordinate – the Steering Committee substantially overreached its mandate and infuriated grassroots activists. As a result, attitudes hardened and the regional delegates, who make up a majority of the NC, almost all arrived mandated to vote for a purely delegate-based conference.”

More calm, more space for discussion and appreciation of the hard voluntary work of comrades in the national office and in local groups, fewer meeting-cancellations, fewer attempts to pre-empt decisions, would have helped improve the atmosphere on 3 December. Whether it would have stopped the recent Trotskyist-baiting, we don’t know.

In the media storm, our ideas on imperialism, on Israel-Palestine, on Europe have been misrepresented, and the great warehouse of Stalinist slurs against Trotskyists has been called into use.

Yes, we are Trotskyists. We say what we think, and we organise openly for our ideas. We believe Momentum is a tremendous opportunity for the left. We have played a constructive role in it since it started, in local groups, nationally, and in initiatives like Momentum NHS.

20,000 people have joined Momentum as members since it launched. There are 150 local groups.

Those groups must be allowed the means to develop a democracy – a continuously thinking, adjust, rethinking process of debate and decision-making which evolves a collective majority opinion – and that needs a conference, not just decision-making via online plebiscites run by the Momentum full-time staff.

At the 3 December meeting we supported a successful motion from Momentum Youth and Students for a campaign to make Labour stand firm on freedom of movement and to fight against the Tories’ post-Brexit plans. Momentum should be uniting to put such policies into action, not using the mass media to stir a storm against the 3 December majority.

Some in the 3 December minority oppose a decision-making conference because they think Momentum should not have policy beyond being generically left-wing and pro-Corbyn. There is a case, and we accept it, for moving quite slowly and gently on many policy issues in a new movement like Momentum. But without policies – on issues like freedom of movement, for example – Momentum cannot campaign coherently in local Labour Parties or on the streets (or, as we found this September, in the Labour Party conference).

Otherwise Momentum can only be a support organisation for the current Labour leadership, a database or phone bank for exercises like the leadership elections.

Let’s go forward to build Momentum, build the Labour Party, resist the Compliance Unit’s purges, fight the Tories, and argue for socialist policies. Those who disagree with the decisions at the National Committee should discuss within Momentum: on our side, they will find no closed doors, and a strong will for unity.

Jon Lansman has vowed to remain in a senior post at Momentum despite the series of rows over internal democracy..

More on Labour List.

And:  The nuclear option.  (Weekly Worker) While Jon Lansman considers ending it all, the left majority needs to press home its advantage, urges Carla Roberts of Labour Party Marxists

it is excellent that the left, pro-democratic wing of Momentum has managed to win a few votes on the NC – clearly, it is all still to play for. But, as long as comrade Lansman is in charge of the organisation, it cannot be anything more than a fan club for Jeremy Corbyn. And not a very dynamic or effective one at that.

We note that the Socialist Party (ex-Militant)  have become professional whingers about their exclusion from this tussle,

Momentum left meeting excludes socialists.

Nor does it bode well for the future of Momentum that I was excluded from this meeting for being a Socialist Party member. I am a member of Momentum and have been trying to bring people together in my area in a Momentum group, yet I was told by Nick Wrack – himself undemocratically excluded from the Labour Party – that I cannot be a member of Momentum and a member of the Socialist Party. When I argued against this I was told it would be put to a vote of the meeting. It was voted down without me even being able to put my case.

Wot the popular masses want to know about is not the whines of a sect that would love to join in a faction fight but can’t.

It’s the position of the Liaison Committee for the Fourth International (LCFI) and its esteemed leading cadre, Gerry Downing.

This group, Socialist Fight, is, it is said, active in Momentum.

From its branch in Brent (where is is claimed it acts as an ally of the mighty ‘Brent Soviet’), its Brazilian allies, and its affiliated section on Pluto, the LCFI is a force to be reckoned with.

Yesterday cde Downing was wibbly-wobbling in his support for the AWL.

They have only issued the briefest of statements,

…would oppose the AWL on Israel and imperialism in general but support then in the battle to democratise Momentum against Lansman. And that will win to a large degree, far more than Lansman wanted at any rate.

Meanwhile the LCFI is fully engaged in the international struggle:

Liberate Aleppo, Defeat Imperialism in Raqqa, Mosul and the Ukraine!

Quite a list!

Written by Andrew Coates

December 9, 2016 at 12:37 pm

Momentum: An analysis of the latest Rows.

with 20 comments

Image result for MOmentum

New Kind of Politics? 

The Independent reports,

Trotskyists are trying to take over Momentum

Labour’s grassroots movement risks being taken over by a ‘disruptive, over-bearing and ultra’left’ faction, according to a new member of its national committee

Trotskyists are a ‘vocal, disruptive and over-bearing’ presence within Momentum, whose ‘sectarian attitude is destructive to our movement,’ according to a new member of its central committee.

Laura Murray, who also works as Special Advisor to Labour Shadow Housing Minister Teresa Pearce, attended her first Momentum Committee, since being elected to the post of Women’s Representative, and has written a lengthy and scathing blogpost of the divisions within the movement that evolved from the campaign to elect Jeremy Corbyn as Labour leader in 2015.

Ms Murray said Momentum “would be engaging in collective self-denial if we were to downplay [Trotskyism’s] prevalence in Momentum. Dyed-in-the-wool Trotskyists are not the majority in Momentum. But they are a vocal, disruptive and over-bearing minority who have won themselves key position in the regional committees, National Committee and even the Steering Committee.”

Labour List led the way this morning with its account of the Momentum splits:

Fresh splits have emerged in Momentum in the aftermath of a crunch meeting to decide on reforms to internal democracy.

Laura Murray, women’s representative, has claimed that the tactics of the Alliance for Workers’ Liberty are contributing to a form of “hard-left warfare” in the Corbynite group.

She published a highly critical blog, following Saturday’s meeting of Momentum’s national committee, in which she alleged there was a “plot” to oust Jon Lansman, chairman and veteran Bennite organiser.

Murray said the two suggested groups in Momentum – those from a Labour Party background and those from movements such as Occupy and UK Uncut – had been joined by a Trotskyite faction.

“Some people take offence at this term being used — understandably, as it is Tom Watson and the Labour right’s insult of choice for us. But we would be engaging in collective self-denial if we were to downplay it’s prevalence in Momentum,” she wrote on Medium.

“Dyed-in-the-wool Trotskyists are not the majority in Momentum. But they are a vocal, disruptive and over-bearing minority who have won themselves key position in the regional committees, National Committee and even the Steering Committee. To be clear, I am not anti-Trotskyist per se, and I recognise the enormous contributions that some Trotskyist thinkers and groups have made to political discourse, but the sectarian attitude taken by Trotskyist groups within Momentum is destructive to our movement.”

Nobody from Momentum could be reached to comment immediately.

They also noted,

Controversial activists Jackie Walker has been elected to a key organising role at Momentum.

Walker, who was removed as vice-chair earlier this autumn after offending many with comments about anti-Semitism, has won a place on the conference arrangements committee at Momentum’s national committee meeting.

The meeting, on Saturday, came after repeated cancellations of the meeting by the steering committee, which meant that the national committee had not met in seven months.

Walker, who was suspended from the Labour party over comments made about the Holocaust and anti-Semitism, was removed from her position as vice-chair of Momentum in the wake of her suspension from Labour.

Walker said she had not found a definition of anti-Semitism she could “work with”, and accused Holocaust Nemorial Day of not being sufficiently inclusive in an outburst at a Jewish Labour Movement event at Labour conference, which was filmed and subsequently leaked.

Numerous senior Momentum figures were said to be deeply unhappy with her remarks, and the head of the TSSA union Manuel Cortes described her views as “abhorrent”. Walker, who is Jewish, later apologised.

Laura Catriona Murray‘s controversial Blog began,

Waking up the morning after the Momentum National Committee, I had that feeling you have after a horrible break-up from someone you love. When you momentarily forget what happened, then you remember and the feeling of loss comes crushing down on you like a ton of bricks all over again.

She cites as a basis for her analysis:  Lewis Bassett of Lambeth Momentum has eloquently described the inevitable conflict between the two political strands which merged with Momentum’s inception — Labourism, those people steeped in the traditions and ideology of the British Labour movement, and Movementism, those activists which had previously spurned party-politics in favour of innovative and exciting campaigning organisations like Occupy, UK Uncut and Climate Camp.

Bassett  summarises his argument:

I cover three developments of Corbyn’s left-wing advance guard, the extra-parliamentary group that evolved out of Corbyn’s initial leadership campaign: first the transition from “social movement” activism to parliamentarianism; second, how the extra-parliamentary politics of post-movementist activists are being tapered by the Labour Party; and third, the way movementist tropes regarding democracy are being operationalised in order to sideline the decision-making structures in Momentum which benefit the traditional left. I end with a critique of the traditional left’s position in Momentum at present.

My experience suggests that “social movement” activists from the recent period of struggle (the alter-Globalisation era) have had a tendency to prefigure the world they want to see, such that at times they have announced the premature death of an existing one. These proclamations have often included the death of the nation state as well as the traditional left which, it turns out, have only been dormant.

In the first part of his analysis Bassett is not uncritical of “movementism”. He describes them in abstract terms – the shift to “state-centred” strategies and then offers an outline of how the Greek left, Syriza has operated in the face of the restless hostility of the EU Troika, which is a largely external and hard-fought over history. Discussing Podemos, he alludes to the centralisation of the party, from its initial  circle based democracy, to the present day centralised -E-democracy. Bassett does not discuss the possibility that the adoption of some of the recipes from Laclau and Mouffe’s analysis of ‘populism’. That is,  how to  articulate political protest through relations of “equivalence” into a machine that pits the People against the ‘Casta’ (the ‘elites’ as French and English language populists call it), and the importance Laclau gave to strong leadership figures to do this.

Bassett however does not discuss the organising principles that have come to the fore in many (post the new millennium) social movements, from Occupy onwards. Consensus-decision making, with its roots in 1970s US feminism and the Quakers, is considered by many activists to have been an obstacle to wider participation – how it could be applied to Momentum is a thought worth considering!  He also does not mention that the latest widely publicised social movement,  Nuit Debout in France  collapsed this summer without making any serious impact at all beyond a limited circle of activists. One of the reasons lay in these organising forms (although the Place de la République meetings allowed a modified form of majority voting).

Bassett continues in terms of a contrast between the two trends he cited above.

Or rather he does not discuss what exactly the ‘traditional’ left is.

One could argue that ‘social movement’ trend has the same 1960s and 1970s origins as the present Labour and an important section of the extra-Labour far-left. One only needs to look at post-May 68 in France to see both trends (themselves a galaxy of different approaches) converging, party, anti-party, movementist, a revival or mainstream political parties. The British left saw a similar, if much less profound, emergence of differing, but allied, currents.

Both were marked by political and social objectives wider than capturing the existing state structure (ideas about participation), recognition of the importance of issues of gender, sexuality, cultural and ethnic (‘race’)  oppression, and an expressed wish for more democratic political forms.

No doubt what might be called ‘traditional’ is an emphasis on the central importance of class inequality and class struggle, (the more radical ideas of self-management and workers’ control were also developed) but each strand is recognisable as part of what was once called the ‘New Left‘.

These priorities, this cultural shift,  extended to some nominally Leninist – or ‘Trotskyist’ groups – though clearly not to others who remain thoroughly – and mendaciously – anti-democratic.

An interchange between these different strands happened during the Rise of the Labour Left, from the late ‘seventies till the ‘eighties. The late ’80s Chesterfield Socialist Conferences, supported by Tony Benn,  were perhaps one of the best known examples of this approach, arguing for socialist and social movement initiatives “inside” and “outside” the State.

Therefore it is not without precedent or surprising that this happened,

…social movement’ actors and organizations became inflected by an emphasis on class as well as a renewed awareness of the material and ideological power of the nation state, which, in the theories that had been popular among the movementists, was thought about only in terms of its erosion (eg Hardt and Negri, 2001). This shift in political consciousness was the prerequisite for ‘social movement’ activists adopting state-centered strategies.

Having worked with Negri I am sure he would be flattered at this degree of influence, though I doubt if anybody moved from the “multitude” to the Labour Party through any deep reading of, say, Commonwealth (2009) to seeing the Labour Party as a vehicle for establishing the ‘common’.

The reason for the support for these activists is a lot simpler: Corbyn’s election to the head of the Labour Party….

The two trajectories discussed here – the movementist and the traditional left – converged on Momentum. Corbyn’s election demonstrated an organic demand for a movement that could outpace the Party in terms of organizing. Tens of independent meetings were held to discuss the victory and ask where next, while in many official Party Ward and Constituency meetings the election was brushed over with an embarrassed shudder by the caste of incumbents.

There are good reasons for this: if these activists intend to pursue their own strategy – protest – how are they going to govern?

A centre to Momentum began to crystalize around the right to possess and access the data gathered during the leadership campaign. The names and contact details of tens of thousands of supporters were made the possession of a board of trusties composed of several Corbyn-friendly MPs and the seasoned Labour Party activist Jon Lansman. With a name provided by popular left-wing commentator Owen Jones, Momentum was officially founded and all other independent pro-Corbyn initiatives and the mass of supporters accepted the branding.

Bassett outlines the internal situation:

At the newly-formed centre, Lansman and behind him a network of activists with deep roots to long embittered struggles within the Labour Party, represented one pole of attraction; on the other were the three members of staff and group of unpaid volunteers drawn from the leadership campaign, among them James Schneider whose own checkered political history diverges dramatically from that of the typically “tribalist” Labour Party activist. Schneider’s thoughts on the development of Momentum reveal his intellectual “fit” with the movementist trend, evidenced by a weariness of trade union practices (motions and delegates, for example), a preference for UK:Uncut style tactics and an expressed desire to make the Labour Party “more like a social movement” (Schneider, 2016). Unprepared and under siege (both within and outside of the Party) Momentum’s centre and Corbyn’s offices contributed next to nothing that would definitively shape the early development of the organisation. Likewise Lansman’s initial efforts to limit and control the spread of local groups was counterbalanced by the movementists in Momentum’s office who ensured a laissez-faire approach. The result was that the aims and structure of Momentum took shape without a shred of authoritative guidance, a power vacuum into which the traditional left gained ascendance.

He concluded,

Can the ‘social movement’ and the traditional left trajectories work together productively? It is possible that the traditional left has the ideological maturity to counter a post-movementist turn to short-termist Fabianism. On the other hand the movementists offer a useful skepticism regarding bureaucracy and a greater sense of post-colonial and contemporary feminist perspectives. Between the two tendencies is Momentum’s office, the core of which will be probably unwilling to hand over the keys to any national structure that fails to make Labour the movement’s primary vehicle.

Whether this is the real division in Momentum remains open to discussion.

Murray makes the reasonable critical  point of how Saturday’s Momentum meeting seemed to be developing which locates the most immediate problem.

This system of using inwardly-focussed and off-putting meetings to elect delegates to hierarchical structures and to discuss motions which are very rarely implemented has failed the left for at least the last century.

It is fairly obvious that the present clashes are leading away from either possibility: towards faction fights, people advancing their personal bug-bears (see ‘anti-Zionism’ above).

Murray’s own comments are hardly above the fray,

the AWL — a group with such extreme Trotskyist politics that they are almost a caricature of themselves — and their fellow travellers. Subtle support for imperialist wars, uncritical support for Israel and fanatical support for the European Union are amongst their policies.

It is perhaps not a good idea to make up the political views of your opponents when you complain about ‘factionalism’, as this farrago indicates…

Though many will sympathise with this more considered judgement:

those who feel very supportive of Jackie Walker, many of whom know her through the Labour Representation Committee (LRC) or anti-racism campaigning, and feel outraged that she was removed as Momentum’s Vice-Chair. I have sympathy for this group because I’ve campaigned for Palestine my entire adult life and know that censorship of free speech on Israel is a very real and dangerous thing. However, I — like many others — believe that Jackie Walker’s comments on Holocaust Memorial Day and security in Jewish schools were insensitive, unnecessary and entirely inappropriate to make at Labour Party conference, as Vice-Chair of Momentum. The rage felt by many when she was removed as Vice-Chair — which was a badly-handled and unpleasant affair — has rendered them unable to grasp the nuance of the situation and unable to appreciate that the action taken by Momentum’s Steering Committee was a reasonable compromise in the face of an escalating situation which Jackie Walker herself could have easily avoided.

And this,

Seven months in which those who rallied around Jackie Walker had their initial hurt and anger stoked by baseless allegations of racism and of a ‘Zionist conspiracy’ against absolutely everybody who didn’t agree with them. Seven months in which these various groups did their upmost to whip everyone else up into a frenzied atmosphere of hatred of Jon Lansman. Online and in local groups, Jon Lansman is demonised, vilified and dehumanised by people who have comparatively not committed an iota of time or energy to the cause of the left in their lives.

I can only say that the more I hear against Landsman the more I concur with Murray’s statement.

In fact the more I hear the more I like Landsman.

But I personally want the Labour Party to be a successful democratic socialist party, with a modern European radical left programme.

I do not want it to be just a “social movement”. I do not want it to be a play-ground for left factions.

I want it to change this country, as part of an internationalist left movement that transforms the world, starting with Europe.

On the evidence Momentum is not, at present, part of that future.

 As counter-evidence one can read Michael Chessum’s eminently sane report:  Thoughts on finding a positive way forward after the Momentum NC.

Written by Andrew Coates

December 6, 2016 at 1:15 pm

Trump, Clinton, Brexit and ‘Social Fascism’: a Historical Note.

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Image result for earl browder social fascism

“Fire on the trained bears of social democracy! (Louis Aragon. 1931)

The comrades at Shiraz are extremely critical of the position taken by the Communist Party of Britain, and its organ, the Morning Star on Brexit, and, now, the American Election result.  Jim writes,

In 1928 the Stalinised Communist International (Comintern) adopted the  “Third Period” line which led the German Communist Party to denounce the Social Democrats as “social fascists” and dismiss the threat of Hitler taking power: it said “fascism” was already in power, and another form of “fascism” could thus be no new threat; and anyway, “after Hitler, our turn next!”.

The similarities with the Third Period were apparent as the Communist Party of Britain and their follow ‘Left Exit’ fantasists tried to give the Tory/UKIP dominated Leave cause a left-wing figleaf during the referendum campaign. This has led to some extraordinaryDaily Mail-style editorials in the Morning Star(the CPB’s de facto mouthpiece) culminating in a shameful attack on parliamentary democracy and the campaigners who brought the High Court case forcing the Tories to acknowledge parliamentary control over Brexit.

The mouthpiece of the CPB is only following a number of ‘leftists’ who imagined that Brexit would be both progressive in itself, a kick in the arse for the EU ‘neoliberals’, and a step towards post-Brexit unrest which they could take advantage of to push for the ‘People’s Brexit’.

Trump’s victory has thrown a spanner in the works for that particular project: it now seems that Brexit will be bolted to US trade negotiations for some kind of free-market between the UK and Washington and a deepening of …neoliberalism.

Popular fury on the left, impotent for the moment, is naturally fertile territory for new line which much of that left will be swept up in. Some are desperately seeking a form of ‘left-wing’ populism, ignoring that Trump and Brexit herald a swing towards national populism centred on the Nation. The left cannot outbid the right in defending its own version of a fusion between the ‘People’ and the Sovereignty of the Nation.

But Jim underlines the Morning Star’s latest attempt to see pearls amongst swine.

The Morning Star has published this extraordinary text on the US election result:

A Blow to Liberalism

Some commentators highlight Trump’s different tone taken in his acceptance speech, with platitudes about being president for all Americans, as though willing Trump to come into line.

This desire regards political normalcy as the target for all politicians, although it lies in tatters today.

Trump’s election isn’t alone in pulverising this discredited thesis. Britain’s referendum decision to leave the EU has similar aspects.

Both campaigns were derided by Establishment politicians and liberal media outlets from the outset.

Those whose votes secured the election of a self-styled outsider as US president and said No to membership of an unaccountable, institutionally neoliberal, bureaucratic EU superstate were demeaned as racists, xenophobes and idiots by liberal elites unable to believe that their conventional wisdom had been spurned.

Polling organisations’ failure to foresee the result of either phenomenon illustrates an inability to identify or empathise with those who have had enough and want something better.

There will certainly have been racists, xenophobes and idiots involved in both campaigns just as there were backing Clinton and Remain.

Insulting voters for their temerity in disagreeing with a business-as-usual agenda in these terms breeds resentment and makes political revolt more likely.

In other words Trump has joined the famous ‘revolt against elites” that the CPB (and no doubt others, such as the People’s Assembly, the SWP and Socialist Party, with dreams of a ‘People’s Brexit’) would dearly love to join – albeit on their own terms.

How far does the analogy go?

Most people on the left know something about the ‘social fascism’ line of the Stalinised Third International.

Social fascism was a theory supported by the Communist International (Comintern) during the early 1930s, which held that social democracy was a variant of fascism because, in addition to a shared corporatist economic model, it stood in the way of a complete and final transition to communism. At the time, the leaders of the Comintern, such as Joseph Stalin and Rajani Palme Dutt, argued that capitalist society had entered the “Third Period” in which a working class revolution was imminent, but could be prevented by social democrats and other “fascist” forces. The term “social fascist” was used pejoratively to describe social democratic parties, anti-Comintern and progressive socialist parties, and dissenters within Comintern affiliates throughout the interwar period.

Wikipedia.

More historical details are offered in this document, The concept of Social Fascism and the relationship between social democracy and fascism.

As Hal Draper noted, “The real enemy, then, was “democratic forms.” (The Ghost of Social-Fascism).

Today post-Brexit and post-Trump  it’s the elite, the Establishment, in which, social democracy and the US centre-left Democrats, are firmly placed.

The principal target is the “ business-as-usual agenda.” The ‘centrists‘ in the US and Europe who have bent to the winds of globalisation and free-markets.

Hence the tender concern for the feelings of “voters” who have the “temerity” of rejecting it.

But they are not just saying ‘no’ to the affairs as normal agenda: they have said yes to a programme that’s a lot worse. 

Social democracy, liberalism (in the US sense of centre left) risk becoming as great an ‘enemy’ as people of the stripe of Trump and his crew of thieving racists. A gang with ambitions to structurally embed their agenda.

There are good reasons to want to try to create an alternative to the remnants of the Blair Third Way, and whatever passed for an ideology with Obama.

But none whatsoever to rejoice in Brexit or to minimise the impact of Trump: both  of which have accentuated the drive towards nationalism and ‘sovereigntism’  – national populism.

Yet the comparison with to break down when we go into just how far the Comintern was prepared to go in attacking the democratic and socialist  left.

Even the most hardened loather of the internationalists who voted Remain would not openly come up with this kind of statement by the Communist Party of Great Britain’s J.T.Murphy in 1930 (Growth of Social-Fascism in Britain. The Communist Review.)

The rôle of the “Left” Social-Fascists, the I.L.P. (Maxton and Co.) in the situation stands out significantly and clear. It must be observed that neither Fascism nor Social-Democracy dispenses with demagogic radical declarations. This is but part of their stock in trade to get their policy across. Just so, also, with the “Left” Social-Fascists. The I.L.P. demands the “living wage,” the Labour Party denies that lowering wages will “improve matters.” Neither Maxton nor any of his associates lifted a finger to assist the strikers in the cotton dispute, but went to the Labour Party Conference and “deplored” the horrid job which “Charlie” Cramp and Walkden had to do, thus apologising and defending the wage-cutting Government.

Few today will probably  know of the way the  French Communist poet and novelist, Louis Aragon, who showed some real heroism in both the First and the Second World War, and during the Resistance, expressed the theory of ‘social fascism’  in his writings.

But it is perhaps one of the best ways of underlining the cultural differences between the Third Period and today.

In Red Front, written on his return from  a  visit to the USSR in 1931, Aragon expressed these lyrical wishes.

Proletariat learn your strength
Learn your strength and unchain it
It is preparing its hour Learn better how to see
Listen to that murmur coming from the prisons
It awaits its day it awaits its hour
its minute its second
when the delivered blow will be mortal
and the bullet so sure that all the social-fascist doctors
leaning over the body of the victim
extending their searching fingers under the lace nightshirt
listening with precision instruments to the already rotting heart
will not find the usual remedy
and will fall into the hands of the rioters who will push them up against the wall

Fire on Léon Blum
Fire on Boncour Frossard Déat
Fire on the trained bears of social democracy
Fire Fire I hear
death pass by as it throws itself on Garchery Fire I tell you
Under the leadership of the Communist Party
SFIC
You wait finger on the trigger
Fire
but Lenin
the Lenin of the right moment.

(Translation from here).

Prolétariat connais ta force

Connais ta force et déchaîne-la

Il prépare son jour

il attend son heure

sa minute la seconde

où le coup porté sera mortel et la balle à ce point sûre

que tous les médecins socialfascistes

Penchés sur le corps de la victime

Auront beau promener leurs doigts chercheurs sous la chemise de dentelle

ausculter avec les appareils de précision son cœur déjà pourrissant

ils ne trouveront pas le remède habituel

et tomberont aux mains des émeutiers qui les colleront au mut

Feu sur Léon Blum

Feu sur Boncour Frossard Déat**

Feu sur les ours savants de la social-démocratie

Feu feu j’entends passer

la mort qui se jette sur Garchery**

Feu vous dis-je

Sous la conduite du parti communiste.

(Full text here)

When the Morning Star republishes this classic, along with this poem, unaccountably rarely reprinted today: to the glory of the Guépéou, Stalin’s secret police and predecessor of the KGB, we will begin to worry.

Seriously.

Préparez les conseils d’ouvriers et soldats
Constituez le tribunal révolutionnaire
J’appelle la Terreur du fond de mes poumons
Je chante le Guépéou qui se forme
en France à l’heure qu’il est
Je chante le Guépéou nécessaire de France

Je chante les Guépéous de nulle part et de partout
Je demande un Guépéou pour préparer la fin d’un monde
Demandez un Guépéou pour préparer la fin d’un monde
pour défendre ceux qui sont trahis
pour défendre ceux qui sont toujours trahis
Demandez un Guépéou vous qu’on plie et vous qu’on tue
Demandez un Guépéou
Il vous faut un Guépéou

 

Vive le Guépéou véritable image de la grandeur matérialiste
Vive le Guépéou contre Dieu Chiappe et la Marseillaise
Vive le Guépéou contre le pape et les poux
Vive le Guépéou contre la résignation des banques
Vive le Guépéou contre les manoeuvres de l’Est
Vive le Guépéou contre la famille
Vive le Guépéou contre les lois scélérates
Vive le Guépéou contre le socialisme des assassins du type
Caballero Boncour Mac Donald Zoergibel
Vive le Guépéou contre tous les ennemis du prolétariat.

Wikipedia cache. (1931)

Socialist Party on “Left Populism”, “Miserable experience” of Momentum and fighting for a “Socialist” Brexit.

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Image result for socialist party Taaffe TUSC

Taaffe’s Socialist Party draws lessons from Momentum’s ‘miserable experience.”

There has been discussion of sectarian bearpits.

Leave it to the experts to show what real sectarians are.

The ‘Socialist Party’, currently attempting to be admitted to the Labour Party, publishes a lengthy theoretical article on the Labour Party.

Corbynism and the rise of left populismPeter Taaffe. (Socialism Today November).

Taaffe begins with this observation,

…how did Jeremy Corbyn use his colossal victory at the Labour Party conference in September? He and his main ally, shadow chancellor John McDonnell – along with their supporters in the Momentum group – attempted to offer the right a way back. This has been the pattern throughout Labour history. On those rare occasions when the reformist left have won, they invariably failed to capitalise on their victory. When the right are in the ascendancy, they go all out to isolate and crush the left, as happened in the purges and expulsions of the 1980s, first against Militant and then the rest of the left, including the supporters of the late Tony Benn.

Now this unqualified identification of the left as a bloc, putting the Militant, a would-be Leninist combat party (albeit a very bureaucratic sclerotic one) in with democratic socialists, is pretty unremarkable.

What is clear is that Taaffe is arguing that the ‘right’ should simply not be “in” the Labour Party. As if all the MPs who are not on the ‘left’ should…well, disappear…

Taaffe, after a lot of glowing phrases about the SP’s activities over the years attempts to render his own organisation’s ‘theory’ of the Labour Party intelligible.

From its outset the Labour Party was, in Lenin’s phrase, a bourgeois workers’ party. Its mass base was composed of workers, particularly from the trade unions, while its leadership always had one foot in the camp of capitalism. Blair changed all that and created a ‘capitalist party’.

The Corbyn insurgency represents an attempt to turn back the wheel of history, to re-establish a new workers’ party.

How the laws of changing quantity into quality work are remarkable.

Bourgeois workers party – bourgeois party- new workers’ party.

This veritable triad of thesis and anti-thesis needs a lever to perform the process of Aufhebung to result in the synthesis.

One might have  guessed what – or rather who –  the SP.

But I anticipate…..

Taaffe wanders into an analysis of the forces at present trying implicated in the ‘Corbyn insurgency’.

It is the effects of this crisis, taken together with the worldwide anti-capitalist movements preceding it, as well as the political rottenness of the leadership of the ‘traditional’ social democratic workers’ parties and organisations, which have led to the emergence of left-wing populism. This is a loose term employed to describe nebulous phenomena, not clearly left but appealing to ‘the folks on the bottom of the ladder’.

Comment: the key feature of populism is not the vague notion of appealing to just plain folks. It is the opposition between the ‘people’ and the ‘elite’, la Casta (as Podemos calls the political and business elite). The problem is that the ‘people’ is a category which is also against a much wider group of the ‘anti-people’. Populism is also for the people (by definition), their rule, and their sovereignty. In the EU Referendum the Socialist Party stood for the same Leave – Brexit – vote as ‘populists’ (UKIP, Brexit Tories) against the EU ‘elite’,  for the Sovereignty of Parliament and the British ‘People’. (1)

 It is hardly surprising that a carnival of reaction accompanied this result as the British ‘people’ turned against the ‘non-people’, foreigners. 

Taaffe attempts to wish this all away with rhetoric:

The leave vote in the EU referendum represented at bottom an uprising against the elite by the working class alongside sections of the middle class.

They perceived the imperialist EU as an author of their misfortunes and took the opportunity to strike back against it and the British ruling class. Incredibly, sections of the left – including some alleged Marxists – opted for remain.

When did the concept of an ‘elite’ become a Marxist marker? If the SP leader  means “A group or class of people seen as having the most power and influence in a society, especially on account of their wealth or privilege” why doesn’t he use the language of class. Or is the Socialist Party advocating the progressive nature of  a populist movement mobilised for the power of ‘regular people,’ and in their right to have control over their government rather than a small group of political insiders or a wealthy elite. Even without the difficulties flagged above – we see here the drift to an endorsement of ‘uprisings’ against “political insiders” without examining the politics of the movement. That somehow the ‘class’ nature of that ‘revolt’ (a very very contestable claim that ignores the position of the labour movement and very large numbers of workers) is somehow more ‘authentic’ ‘regular’ than the Remain left camp. Who are, one assumes, part of that “elite” – and, hey why not, the cosmopolitans – another word associated with ‘elites’….

Relishing the prospect of Brexit the Socialist Party leader fails to mention any benefit to the left or the labour movement other than a potential split in the Tories,

The negotiations over Brexit could result in Britain leaving the EU, which will have colossal repercussions in the Tory party, and probably split it from top to bottom. This could result in a schism similar to that of the early 19th century over the Corn Laws which kept the Tories out of power for decades.

Taaffe’s views on on the ‘two parties‘ in  Labour, with a hefty dose of patronising lesson-giving, is the following,  “These transitional parties and organisations, inherently unstable, can give way through splits to a more defined form of left reformism. They contain elements of the past, alongside the undeveloped ideas and forces of the future. This is why we have described the present Labour Party as no longer a completely right-wing social democratic party but one which contains these features as well as the outline of a new radical socialist mass party. There are two parties fighting for domination within Labour.”

Transitional forms…one wishes for the old Trotskyist clarity: he means ‘centrists’ who waver between ‘reformism’ and ‘revolution’. Apart from this, these ‘features’ and the “outline” – clunky expressions if ever there were any – of a new radical socialist mass party are left undefined. The struggle between these “two parties” (barely defined beyond the most general level), given the criticisms of Corbyn and his allies, is all very well, but who defines what is on one side and what is on the other?

The impression – the correct impression – is that there is a ghostly ‘Socialist Party’ side (everything they agree with from Brexit onwards) called the left,  left populists in the middle, and the Right. Too terrible to be even in the same party.

At this point we would ask what of winding up the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition (TUSC)  which campaigned for a mass working-class party and was the “side” in which the Socialist Party openly set out its stall?

Taaffe modestly describes TUSC’s present suspension of activity as  the means, “to consolidate the victory of the left.”

But for the real strategy inside the ‘war of two parties’ after TUSC’s – present- truce,  we have to turn to the Socialist’s Editorial today.

It’s theme is “Imagine if Jeremy Corbyn was currently campaigning for a socialist Brexit.”

But the article soon gets down to the issue of Momentum – dispelling the illusion that this it is part of the forces working for a ‘new workers’ party.

Few, however, will be inspired to get active by the Momentum leadership’s current strategy of endless conciliation with the right. This road, if continued down, will ultimately lead to widespread demoralisation and therefore defeat.

We warned of this when, soon after the foundation of Momentum, Peter Taaffe, general secretary of the Socialist Party, and Hannah Sell, deputy general secretary, met with Jon Lansman. Even then Lansman argued against fighting for mandatory reselection, believing that many of the MPs could be won over to Corbyn, enabling him to ‘cling on’ until 2020. Our warnings that the right was irreconcilably opposed to Corbyn and an attempted coup was inevitable were dismissed.

They warned, but were their counsels heeded?

The consequences of Momentum’s continued strategy of ‘clinging on’ are currently being demonstrated in the attempts of its unelected leadership to prevent any kind of democratic Momentum conference taking place. They are terrified that a conference might embarrass them by voting to combat the Blairites.

Because no doubt Momentum shovers at the very thought of a “combat” with the (unnamed) “Blairites”.

That is why they are proposing the conference be organised on an online voting basis. While online voting can play a useful supplementary role in some circumstances, if it is used to replace meetings and conferences it is always a means to consign the majority to the status of passive observers, whose participation is limited to the occasional click, while central decisions are taken by an unaccountable leadership.

Those who became active in Momentum in order to fight to transform the Labour Party need to draw the necessary conclusions from this miserable experience.

Which they can only counter by offering this sound advice: we were right. 

As the Socialist Party has argued from the beginning, what is needed is an open, democratic, fighting organisation that brings together all who want to fight to transform Labour into an anti-austerity party; whether or not they are currently allowed into the Labour Party by the right-wing machine. Such a force should fight clearly for the transformation of the Labour Party; including the democratisation of its structures – mandatory reselection, restoring trade union rights, readmitting expelled and excluded socialists – see our petition – and allowing socialist organisations to affiliate.”

The Socialist Party’s opposition to Momentum leadership is indeed a “warning” to the left, though perhaps not in the way the Editorial intends.

It would be interesting to know, from a party that has the loudest yelps for ‘democracy’, how its own party debates take place, their pre-conference discussions, their internal discipline, rules, and their rules on dissent inside their organisation. Oh, and their membership, figures and all. 

******

(1) See Ernesto Laclau On Populist Reason (Verso, 2005) and, more immediately relevant:  Podemos: In the Name of the People Chantal MouffeInigo Errejon , Owen Jones (Introduction). 2016. 

Update: the latest contribution to the Momentum issue:  The row in Momentum: a Q&A. Sacha Ismail.

More: How Momentum entered the crisis zone. Stephen Bush. New Statesman.

Warring Momentum members reach truce over ‘virtual reality’ talks.   Guardian. 

Written by Andrew Coates

November 2, 2016 at 5:54 pm

Paul Mason Joins Momentum: “Labour can only win as an insurgency.”

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Image result for paul mason postcapitalism

Paul Mason: “Momentum itself is at a crossroads.”

Labour List reports,

Corbyn cheerleader Paul Mason has joined Momentum, he disclosed today, as internal disputes continued with senior members rejecting claims they had attempted to thwart democracy through “Blairite” manoeuvres.

Former BBC and Channel 4 journalist Mason said his decision to sign up was in part to support efforts to implement online all-member ballots which will decide how the group is run.

The proposed democratic structure, which would see all of Momentum’s 20,000 members vote on strategic decisions, has proved controversial, with officers on the steering committee publicly criticising the changes.

Now supporters of the reforms, which are backed by the group’s chair Jon Lansman, have defended the decision robustly, following a weekend of accusations of “bureaucratic manipulation” and a “coup”. Much of the internal unrest has played out in public, with steering committee members Jill Mountford and Michael Chessum penning public statements about their unhappiness.

Paul Mason’s announcement that he has joined Momentum – at a time when the grass-roots organisation faces a serious crisis – prompts a number of reflections.

This Blog has commented before that Mason began his journey in an activist direction in Why it’s Kicking Off Everywhere. The New Global Revolutions. Paul Mason. Review. Andrew Coates.

To Mason there are signs of the “emancipated human being” emerging “spontaneously from within the breakdown of the old order”. The illumination of the multitude can be seen in the “act of taking a space and forming a community” – from Tahrir Square to Wall Street. This showed “the deployment of digital communications at work, in social life, and now in the forms of protest.” But in the tradition Mason refers to, there are more sceptical strands. Capital and the state can colonise such “smooth spaces” (democratic and equal areas) and make them “striated” (integrated into established exploitation and power) is less obvious (A Thousand Plateaus. Gilles Deleuze. Félix Guattari. 2003)

Paul Mason’s book  PostCapitalism: A Guide to Our Future  (2015) is an important book brimming with ideas. It uses many Marxist concepts (echoing Ernest Mandel on Kondratiev waves as in Long waves of capitalist development: the Marxist interpretation. 1980). This is the idea that capitalist development and crises, innovation and stagnation, are long-term cycles (we are on the downward one at present). We will leave it to specialists to judge how well he has integrated this theory into PostCapitalism and whether the premise stands in the first place. But, that said, it is always refreshing to see – as will be seen below – somebody  on the left who writes about the world today  beyond the categories of 1917 ‘Leninism’.

The heart of PostCapitalism is a reflection that  develops the labour theory of value in modern conditions.  “As Marx speculated, many commodities, such as software, music, and designs for objects to be reproduced by machines, can now be reproduced at virtually no cost.  This leads to a conceptualisation of  “immaterial” labour, the basis of what he calls “post capitalism”. “

“The defeat of organised labour did not enable – as the neoliberals thought – a ‘new kind of capitalism’ but rather the extension of the fourth long wave on the basis of stagnant wage growth and atomisation. Instead of being forded to innovate their way out of the crisis using technology, as during the late stage of all three previous cycles, the 1 per cent simple imposed penury and atomisation on the working class.”(PostCapitalism  Page 93)

He draws on Marx’s Fragment on Machines (a favourite text of the writers such as Toni Negri  and Michael Hardt. (Multitude: War and Democracy in the Age of Empire.) and Paolo Virno (A Grammar of the Multitude 2004). This is a form of social order and economics,  within capitalism itself, fostered by the (apparent)  central role of information in the economy, civil society, and the state.

As Mason says,

the Niches and hollows out the markets system “new forms are developing, new forms of ownership, new forms of lending, new legal contracts” the “sharing economy”, “common” ‘peer production.” (PostCapitalism Page xxii)

 

Mason uses a number of  terms to describe the emergence of ‘post-capitalism’. The key conceptual divide is not class struggle but  “networks v hierarchies”. This is a belief that there is an inherent desire for a “beyond” capitalism in the search for human autonomy. The central lever of change in this direction is the “networked individual”.

At this point it would be better to look at PostCapitalism in terms of political agency. That is ““New opposition movements, “determined to avoid the power structures and abuses that hierarchies bring…” (PostCapitalism. Page xxii)

As David Tyfield notes (On Paul Mason’s ‘Post-Capitalism’ – An extended review. 2015)

Realizing the end of capitalism demands a social force actually to seize the reins of power. One may expect, given the Marxian resources used to this point, that the identity of this social agency would be obvious. Mason, however, makes a distinct and compelling break with his own orthodoxy at this point, arguing that post-capitalism will not be constructed by the ‘working class’. Indeed, going further, he argues that Left-wing movements seeking to expedite the emergence of a progressive information post-capitalism must do some profound rethinking of political shibboleths.

What is needed instead is the construction of a new global social movement, focused not on communal identities as exploited workers but on new and dynamic collective identities as enabled and emancipated and interconnected persons, enjoying the abundance and leisure of an equitable and socially just information society. On this point, then, Mason presents some speculations regarding how the political economy of this post-capitalist utopia could be organized, before finishing with an extended discussion of how we get from ‘here’ to ‘there’ and what such a ‘transition’ could involve.

Although since he does refer to Cornelius Castoriadis or the contemporary current inspired by his ideas, this closely resembles the dynamic of ‘autonomy’  versus “heteronomy”. Humans, networking on their own initiative, face the ‘heteronomous’ (that is not just laws laid down by desire instead of reason but by ‘external’ forces, extra-social authorities ). Or simply, the world of capitalism constructed outside their control, and against their will. Creative, or “enabled”  individuals, need to seize control of the ‘imaginary construction of society”.  In Serge Latouche’s Cornelius Castoriadis ou l’autonomie radicale (2014) this goal is summarised as  “l’autonomie individuelle et la participation de tous aux décisions qui les concernent.” – individual autonomy (self-rule) and the participation of everybody in decisions which concern them. It will be the basis of “l’utopie concrète”.  The author, who also supports a ‘zero-growth’ (décroissance) version of Green politics, believes equally that everybody  except a tiny minority (crudely, those in control of the ‘heteronomous’ world, capitalists and politicians)  has an interest in this ‘project’.

Latouche makes clear the direction one can follow once ‘identities’ are reordered around terms like networks/hierarchies – or self-determined autonomy against external command. Mason believes we live in a “Post-scarcity” world, in which, referring to the radical theorist André Gorz (a figure that brings the two writers close), “Info-tech makes the abolition of work possible. All that prevents it is the social structure we know as capitalism.”(PostCapitalism Page 181)

Some of this is perhaps at odds with zero-growth theory (though both writer’s visions of the future are too vaguely defined to engage in a serious confrontation). But in other respects his vision of the future has parallels with Latouche:  eventually work will become voluntary, basic commodities and public services are free and economic management becomes primarily an issue of energy and resources, not capital and labour.  That will be, we might conjecture, the best version of “post-capitalism”. In some respects we are ‘already there’ in that significant commodities in the digital economy are free and open-source (FOSS) and non-capitalist, such as Linux, Firefox and Wikipedia.

A transition is summarised as follows:

The road-map will involve harnessing zero-marginal-cost production, and seeking to avoid the failings of twentieth-century Communism and capitalism.  The section articulates ‘five principles of transition’, all envisaged operating through non-hierarchical social networks:

  1. To use massive amounts of real data to understand, model, and test ideas for social change so that they fit observable trends in human behaviour.
  2. Ecological sustainability.
  3. Ensuring that a transition to post-capitalism is not conceptualised simply in economic terms, but in wider human terms.
  4. To address problems with diverse approaches, rather than attempting monolithic solutions.
  5. Maximise the power of information.

Mason boldly announces that more widely, “Under a government that embraced postcapitalism, the state, the corporate sector and public corporation could be made to pursue radically different needs with relatively low-cost changes to regulation, underpinned by a radical programme to shrink debt.”(Post Capitalism Page 278)

I already have a problem with Mason’s reference to a foreshadowing for this transition to Alexander Bogdanov‘s novel Red Star: like all utopias, from Étienne Cabet‘s Voyage en Icarie (1844) onwards, it looks to me more like an order than a democracy.  

I digress….

In the current New Left Review Rob Lucas (The Free Machine) offers a significant critical account of Mason’s views.

After outlining the wider economics (briefly sketched above) he falls upon  the networked individual.

Mason’s ‘networked individual’ might be read more as a figure of the future, an incarnation of the ‘social individual’ that Marx meditated upon in the 1844 ‘Notes on James Mill’: developed yet suppressed by capitalist reality, an individual no longer separated from the social means of reproducing her own life, and able to appropriate finally—in a formulation from the Grundrisse—‘all the powers of science and of nature’ and of ‘social combination and social intercourse’ that it has hitherto been capital’s task to develop. For now those powers remain largely locked in opaque technical infrastructures that someone else owns, scholarly literature in gigantic silos accessible only to those with the requisite affiliations.

Rather than Latouche’s bald assertion of a universal interest in autonomy, founded ultimately on our existence as beings on an ecosystem called Earth, Mason talks of the potential contradictions of capitalism.

But, as Lucas notes,

The rise of information cannot just mean the emergence of a new mode of production which can sit harmoniously alongside an enduring capitalist one—as in Yochai Benkler’s visions—or a stable new regime of capitalist accumulation, as in some post-autonomist interpretations, since ‘an economy based on information’ cannot ‘be a capitalist economy’.

The finality of this judgement sits a little awkwardly with Mason’s insistence that the transition will have to be implemented by a specific subject. But who should this be? Mason surveys the history of the workers’ movement, from rebellion (1900s) and repression (1930s) to co-existence (1950s), arguing that its spontaneous ideology was one of work-place control, solidarity, self-education and ‘the creation of a parallel world’. This, rather than trade-union reformism or revolutionary communism, was what the shop stewards who emerged outside unions supporting the First World War to form factory committees and councils, were looking for. But after the mass-slaughter of workers through fascism and war, a settlement came about in which work seemed ‘absurd, ridiculous and boring’, and from the early 1960s workers could see that a dramatic increase in automation was ‘no longer science fiction’.

These difficulties aside, out of this changes that have taken place since automation and the information society,  emerges the “The figure of ‘the network’, ” the alternative to Bolshevism’s command and control.

A network is a set of connections, it may be a way of giving a broad picture of  a social force (a market, a cycle of production, a political movement, even a ‘state’). But Mason does not precisely define one – we are all networked, any more than the recent theories of ‘populism’ have succeeded in demarcating the ‘people’ from the elite.

Lucas, if one can simplify his argument,  could be said to state that in the absence of any defined social  ‘subject’ of historical change,   “The theory risks becoming a sort of signpost merely pointing at a technological sublime.” Furthermore, “It’s not clear at which point Mason’s postcapitalist transition would definitively issue into a stable new mode of production. “

Now however Mason appears to have found his subject-object of historical change: Momentum. 

Why I joined Momentum. Paul Mason. 

Momentum itself is at a crossroads.

It faces two alternative futures: one in which all the negative, hierarchical and factionalist tendencies of the 20th century left are allowed to resurface; another in which Momentum — and ultimately Labour itself — becomes a horizontal, consensus-based organization, directly accountable to its mass of members.

Ones hackles are raised by the very term “consensus based” – presumably that means no elections but something ‘superior’ to them.

Mason later elaborates on this,

As to its internal structures, Momentum should take major decisions by consensus, using electronic democracy to engage every dues-paying member.

As L.A. Kaufmann puts it (The Theology of Consensus).

Instead of voting a controversial plan up or down, groups that make decisions by consensus work to refine the plan until everyone finds it acceptable. A primer on the NYC General Assembly website, the structural expression of the Occupy movement, explains, “Consensus is a creative thinking process: When we vote, we decide between two alternatives. With consensus, we take an issue, hear the range of enthusiasm, ideas and concerns about it, and synthesize a proposal that best serves everybody’s vision.”

Now let’s just note for the moment (apart from the failures of this model in the Occupy movement, and more recently, this very year, in efforts to use the model, even partially, in the unsuccessful Nuit Debout movement in France) that Jeremy Corbyn was not elected by consensus. That one of the few issues this Blog agrees with Chantal Mouffe on is the need for dissensus – the free clash of opinions – for the functioning of democracy. That a challenge to the existing political set up creates stasis, in the sense used by Giorgio Agambem, an upsetting of order and agreement that has parallels to civil war. Which it is the business of democracy to resolve as peacefully as possible.

Now let’s look at the practice.

Kaufmann states,

Movement after movement found, moreover, that the process tended to give great attention and weight to the concerns of a few dissenters. In the purest form of consensus, a block by one or two individuals could bring the whole group to a screeching halt.

Sometimes, that forced groups to reckon with important issues that the majority might otherwise ignore, which could indeed be powerful and transformative. But it also consistently empowered cranks, malcontents, and even provocateurs to lay claim to a group’s attention and gum up the works, even when groups adopted modifications to strict consensus that allowed super-majorities to override blocks.

If the forty-year persistence of consensus has been a matter of faith, surely the time has now come for apostasy. Piety and habit are bad reasons to keep using a process whose benefits are more notional than real. Outside of small-group settings, consensus process is unwieldy, off-putting, tiresome, and ineffective. Many inclusive, accountable alternative methods are available for making decisions democratically. If we want to change the world, let’s pick ones that work.

Electronic democracy is another problem, though before looking at its difficulties we should note that some critics of the Momentum leadership were recently trumpeting this method for Labour members to elect the shadow cabinet.

That E-democracy is no panacea can be seen by its central importance in Beppe Grillo‘s Movimento 5 Stelle: a means by his clique to run the show and not a democratic tool  at all.

That said, in practice Mason’s world does not look to me like a consensual model of politics: “Faced with an unprecedented level of hostility and sabotage from the media, the business elite, Labour can only win as an insurgency.

How on earth one could contain this clash, or quarantine it off, from the island of Momentum consensus is hard to tell. Perhaps this small-groups can operate it. And remain small groups.

Now I agree with the fine intentions behind this next statement, ” We need to turn half a million-plus members into activists: people proud to be identified with Labour as the party of social justice; people equipped with the ideas and organizational skills to start making a difference…”

This is also in the realm of good intentions:

I am not worried about “entryism”. Anybody who is in a left wing group or party right now should be allowed to join Momentum, so long as they openly and irrevocably dissolve their organizations and pledge to support Labour in all future elections.

Under party rules it would take them two years to become members so I favour a rule change to shorten that to a few weeks. Ditto for anybody who wants to leave the Greens or SNP and join Labour.

And,

The problem is not “entryism”: it is a view of politics whereby it becomes the task of a small group to capture and direct a larger organization.

That’s what the Blairites did to Labour; we don’t want a left wing version of it. Above all we don’t want a scenario where die-hard Bolshevik re-enactment groups decide to take over Momentum, so that it can then take over Labour, and then Labour takes over the state.

 As is,

I think the most revolutionary thing we can achieve is to put a left Labour government in power: to switch off the neoliberal privatization machine, to end expeditionary warfare and the arming of dictators, to redistribute both wealth and power to the people.

And this is about as ‘new’ as the ‘New Left’ circa, er, 1961.

We also have to propagate a new way of doing politics — emulating the best of the grassroots and horizontal movements, embracing popular participation, people’s plans, people’s budgets and popular assemblies.

If Mason’s contribution for the simple reason that it talks of wider issues and might deflect attention away from rants against Momentum’s  leadership is welcome it is far from clear that is about to become a full political actor in the Labour Party let alone the new subject-object of the transition from capitalism to ‘post-capitalism’.

Written by Andrew Coates

November 1, 2016 at 6:47 pm