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Russian Revolution: when workers took power. Paul Vernadsky. Review: ‘1917 and problems of democracy’.

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1917 and problems of democracy.  Solidarity. 6th of September. Alliance for Workers’ Liberty.

The historian of the French Revolution, François Furet, wrote in 1995 wrote that that after the fall of the USSR, the October Revolution had ended its journey. Unlike the first French Republic, Soviet power, and Lenin, “left no heritage”. Over 800 pages later the critic of the Jacobins concluded that while it was hard to “think” of another kind of society, democracy manufactured the need for a world beyond “Capital and the Bourgeoisie”. If the figure of the Bolshevik party had disappeared, the “idea of communism” could be reborn in new forms.1

Twenty-two years later, on the anniversary of the October Revolution, much debate on the left remains about how to assess the legacy of the Bolsheviks. Many reject Lenin’s party, arguing that movements for socialism or communism should seek novel constituencies, structures and objectives. In contrast to these judgements, Paul Vernadsky begins The Russian Revolution by asserting, “The Russian revolution of 1917 was the greatest event in political history so far. It was the first occasion that working class people took political power and held it for a significant period.”

He states, “In October 1917 the Russian working class, led by the Russian Social Democratic Labour Party (RSDLP, Bolshevik party), took power through their mass, democratic soviets (councils).” The lessons of the revolution remain relevant to working class politics today.2 Vernadsky tells the story of 1917, from the slaughter of the First World War, initial protests and strikes, to the February Revolution and October.

The Bolshevik resurgence faced with a Kerensky-led government determined to continue the war, the July Days when the state was on the brink of a hard-right clampdown, to the dissolution of the elected Constituent Assembly in January 1918 and its replacement by Soviet Power. Celebrating the Carnival of the Oppressed, the “creative transformations” unleashed by the workers “ruling their own state”, he outlines the progressive decrees issued by the new Soviet government, beginning with the delivery of the slogan: “all land to the peasants”. “Without the RSDLP, the Russian Revolution would not have occurred.”3

The Russian Revolution is not just a history of events.

Vernadsky offers a valuable introduction to debates about this party, the Bolsheviks, much of which was stimulated by Lars Lih’s Lenin Rediscovered: What is to be done in context. Other writers covered include Lenin enthusiast Paul le Blanc, and Tom Twiss’s measured account of Trotsky’s evolving, contradictory, views of the development of bureaucracy in the wake of revolution. There is a strong section on the Women’s Revolution, paying special attention to the “futuristic vision of Aleksandra Kollontai, as illuminated by studies of “Bolshevik feminists”.

Other areas in which members of Workers’ Liberty have contributed important debate figure in this context. Of particular interest are the critical sections on Lenin’s theory of imperialism in the chapter ‘War and the Myth of Defeatism’, inspired by Hal Draper’s studies. Unlike knee-jerk ‘anti-imperialists’ the author cites Trotsky: “working-class policy on war is not “automatically derived from the policy of the bourgeoisie, bearing only he opposite sign…”4 One imagines that same quarters will reject the passages on nationalities, including the Jewish Question. In his conclusion Vernadsky is clear that “Israeli Jews are a nation and they should have the right to self determination today like any other nation.”5

Lih argued that the Bolsheviks were a lot more than, as the party leader Zinoviev put it in his lectures in 1923, a “hierarchical, closely knit organisation”, run from the top-down to enlighten the workers. It was not a “party of a new type”, but in the mould of democratic Marxist based organisations of the Second International, above all the German Social Democrats (SPD). Although it had its own stamp by operating in autocratic conditions, Lenin was, in key works such as What is to be Done? “directly inspired” by the German “model”. In more detail Lenin’s strategy was designed to bring together the “purposive worker” and the social democratic worldview conveyed by practical-minded activists, by the “power of a genuinely sound explanation.”

The Bolsheviks, if this account stands, were very far from political outriders, a messianic party-sect, but part of the mainstream of European socialism.6 Lih saw this as the basis for “fighting for democracy to the end” as a precondition for workers’ power, and socialism. For Lih this “old Bolshevik” stand guided Lenin right up to October and the overthrow of the Provisional government, “to carry out a thorough-going democratic transformation”. Vernadsky enters into the — lengthy — debate on this claim. He states that Lenin’s assessment of the growth of the soviets and soldiers’ committees meant that his call for the overthrow of the Provisional government meant that Lenin took “steps towards permanent revolution”.

That is, an acceleration of revolutionary “stages” towards, he contentiously asserts, a position where the victories of the Bolsheviks, “deconstructed capitalist relations of production and put in place an economic system where the imperative was social need, not private profit.” It is undeniable that this prospect inspired millions inside and outside Russia, with the hope that socialism was on the agenda. For many of us that wish still burns.7 Yet, many unresolved issues remain to be discussed from this thought-provoking book.

Two could be signalled; questions about the body that “led” the Russian working class, and the direction it began to take them in the aftermath of October. If we accept the view that the Bolsheviks were a democratic party with open debate and a real base in the working class and popular masses, what kind of template had Lenin and his tendency adopted? A critical description of the pre-1914 SPD “oligarchy” by Robert Michels developed themes already circulating on the left in Germany itself, and internationally by “revolutionary syndicalists” like the French writer George Sorel. In light of the monstrous oligarchy of Stalinist bureaucracy these limits inside Lenin’s “model” apparatus might inspire further reflection.

Only Lenin’s most uncritical admirers would deny problems about the practices of “committee people”, however small in number they may have been initially, brought into the “smashed” state machine.8

The next is that even supporters do not argue that in power the Bolsheviks were always democratic. Many would also question as to how far they respected the workers’ democracy they contrasted to “formal” Parliamentary pluralism. The well-documented cases of human rights abuses, which began with October, and were accelerated by the creation of the Cheka, cannot be explained away by “external conditions”, the civil war, and the need for Red Terror to stave off the very real threat of a far-right regime that would have drowned the revolution in blood.

The need for independent law, in however difficult circumstances, respect for the people’s rights, was denied during the dictatorship of the proletariat. What kind of political instrument can introduce non-capitalist relations of production with these limits on democratic decision-making? Socialism was, and is, far from a self-evident thing. How can a transitional mode of production to communism be formed without free debate about what kind of economy, what kind of production, what social goals people are working towards?

Outlawing opposition papers, bourgeois, then all non-Bolshevik parties, ignoring the voices of “non-party” workers, stifled not just conflicting views but fostered the belief that those doing the outlawing knew better than anybody else. It was under Lenin that Soviet democracy was finished off. It was in the early 1920s that the acceptance of a military and political police entered into what would become the established doctrine of the dictatorship of the proletariat — the first, far from “temporary”, stage to socialism. This is a very negative lesson from the Russian revolution.9

Notes

1. Pages 8 and 809. Le passé d’une illusion. François Furet. Éditions Robert Laffont. 1995.

2. Pages 9 and 19. The Russian Revolution. When the workers took power. Paul Vernadsky.

3. Page 114. Paul Vernadsky Op cit.

4. Page 197. Paul Vernadsky Op cit

5. Page 346. Paul Vernadsky Op cit

6. Page 398. Lenin Rediscovered: What is to be done in context. Brill. 2005.

7. On Lih Pages 163-9. Next quote, Page 19. Paul Vernadsky Op cit. Political Parties. Robert Michels. Transaction Publishers. 2009 (originally published, 1911.) Georges Sorel in 1902 had already written of the SPD’s “spirit of authoritarianism and bureaucracy in a New Church run like an huge civil service (“administration”) page 188. L’illusion du politique. Georges Sorel et le debate intellectuel 1900. Schlmo Sand. La Découverte, 1984.

8. “La démocratie soviétique a été définitivement étouffée au moment de l’interdiction des partis soviétiques, après la guerre civile, et non pas lorsque l’alternative était soit capituler devant les Blancs, soit défendre la révolution par tous les moyens. Elle fut donc étouffée après la victoire, alors qu’aucune armée blanche n’était plus présente sur le territoire de la Russie des soviets. Ernest Mandel. Octobre 1917 : Coup d’Etat ou révolution sociale ? La légitimité de la révolution russe. Cahiers d’Etudes et de Recherches, n°17/18, 1992.

9. The Dictatorship of the Proletariat from Marx to Lenin, Hal Draper. Monthly Review Press. 1987.

Extract from Paul Vernadsky’s book: The opening days of the Russian Revolution.

 

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Written by Andrew Coates

September 7, 2017 at 11:26 am

‘Straight Left” from Tankie Faction in the Communist Party of Great Britain to the Heart of the Labour Party.

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Straight Left.

“The hatred and contempt with which each side treats the others—as also the bewilderment and distress of the silent majority of Party loyalists—seems now to exceed that in the Labour Party at the height of Bennism. In the Eurocommunist camp, as then on the Labour Left, it is typically expressed in generational terms—‘Why don’t you just die?’ was the shout of one of the new wave ‘pluralists’ when, at a recent aggregate, an old-timer attempted to speak.

Whereas in previous Communist crises, such as those of 1939–40 or 1956, the factory branches remained solid or even increased in strength, while it was the ‘intellectuals’ who were then wracked by doubt, this time it is the industrial comrades who have been ready to put their Party loyalties in question. In their majority they seem to have rallied to the Morning Star. Trade unionists—‘white, male, middle-aged’, as they were recently characterized by the Party’s Industrial Organizer, after a week at the TUC—are no longer honoured in the Party but viewed with social and even sexual disgust.

As in other political formations of the Left, political disagreement has been exacerbated by sociological discomforts which it seems increasingly difficult for a unitary organization to contain, and although the outcome is different in the Communist and the Labour Party, it does not seem fanciful to discern the same fissiparous forces at work: a simultaneous break-up of both class and corporate loyalties.”

Raphael Samuel. The Lost World of British Communism. Part 3. New Left Review I/165, September-October 1987.

This, apparently, is the atmosphere that reigned in the party, the CPGB, that some of Jeremy Corbyn’s key staff, from Seumas Milne to the new deputy director of strategy and communications,  Steve Howell, were involved with  in their – relative – youth.

The faction, “Straight Left” appears to be a common tie,

The leading ideological force in the Straight Left faction was Fergus Nicholson, who had previously worked as the CPGB’s student organiser. According to Michael Mosbacher in Standpoint magazine, the faction was “a hard-line anti-reformist pro-Soviet faction within the Communist Party”. Unlike the leadership, they supported the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia  in 1968 and Afghanistan in 1979. They also thought the party should concentrate its work in Trade Unions , and not in social movements such as feminism and environmentalism.

Because the CPGB’s rules banned the formation of factional groups, SL operated in secret. Members of the faction contributed funds to the organisation through significant monthly donations, which helped fund the groups educational gatherings, often referred to as camping weekends. Its meetings were not publicly announced, and writers in their newspaper Straight Left and their theoretical magazine Communist wrote under pseudonyms like Nicholson, whose pen-name was “Harry Steel”. The Straight Left faction also produced anonymous bulletins to try to influence CPGB Congresses usually under the heading “Congress Truth”.

The faction produced a dissident internal pamphlet entitled “The Crisis in Our Communist Party – Cause, Effect and Cure”, which was distributed nationally but not under its name. This was authored (in all likelihood in conjunction with others), by veteran miner and communist Charlie Woods, who was expelled from the CPGB for putting his name to the publication.

The reason for the sudden interest?

After Jeremy Corbyn’s campaigns chief Simon Fletcher quit his role earlier this month, it was branded a victory for Seumas Milne. Fletcher was known to have clashed with Corbyn’s director of strategy and communications on a range of issues, including the EU. Now, in a sign things are moving further in Milne’s favour, Steve Howell has been appointed as deputy director of strategy and communications.

Happily, the pair are unlikely to clash over their political views anytime soon. They are old comrades who were both involved with Straight Left, the monthly journal in the Eighties that became associated with the ‘Stalinist’, pro-Soviet, anti-Eurocommunist faction that eventually split from the Communist Party of Great Britain. Described by Standpoint magazine as ‘a hard-line anti-reformist pro-Soviet faction within the Communist Party’, the Straight Left movement was also where Milne met Andrew Murray, the first chair of the Stop the War campaign who previously called for solidarity with North Korea.

Introducing Corbyn’s new spinner: the Straight Left comrade who is Mandelson’s old communist chum. (Steerpike. Spectator).

This was also immediately noticed on the left, provoking it must be said some jealousy on the part of former members of rival factions within the defunct Communist Party of Great Britain (CPGB).

Bob from Brockley  posted,

Fletcher’s replacement is Steve Howell, brought in from a PR firm in South Wales. Howell has not been politically active for a while, as far as I can see, but does have history: like Milne and Andrew Murray he was active in the Stalinist faction Straight Left. Howell, then based in Sheffield, led its Yorkshire group. Their faction was called “the artists” – most of its key figures were Oxbridge types, in contrast to the salt of the earth workerists who led the main rival tankie faction, the Communist Campaign Group.

At that point in the 1980s, hardcore Stalinists (known as “tankies” for their support for the tanks sent in by the Soviets to crush dissent in its various satellites) were fighting to keep the Communist Party of Great Britain loyal to the memory of Uncle Joe Stalin, who was seen as something of an embarrassment by its Eurocommunist leadership. Straight Left sought to re-orient the party towards operating in the Labour Party and trade union movement.

Some of the denunciations of its tactics by rival Stalinists from the time are amusing, but also a bit sinister now it finally has achieved getting some of its activists into key positions in the Labour Party.

This is from the ultra-tankie Leninist newspaper (forerunner of the Weekly Worker) in 1983:

And this is about Straight Left’s strategy of covertly using the Labour Party rather than Communist Party as the vehicle for promoting Stalinism, a strategy the Leninist denounced as “liquidationism”:

I have no idea if Howell has, like Murray, remained true to his Stalinist roots. (His schoolmate and old comrade in Hendon Young Communists, Peter Mandelson, clearly hasn’t.)

Now the Alliance for Workers’ Liberty have offered their assessment.

Corbyn’s Leader’s Office is dominated by the former Guardian journalist Seumas Milne and by people close to Andrew Murray, chief of staff of the Unite union. Milne’s political formation was in the Stalinist sect “Straight Left”.

Another Straight Lefter was Andrew Murray… Milne, like Murray, is still a Stalinist. Writing for the Guardian, as he has done for many years, he puts his views in urbane double-negative form, but he is still a Stalinist… Operators used to snuggling into the established political and media machines, ideologically imbued with and trained over decades in ‘top-down’ politics, will not serve Jeremy Corbyn, John McDonnell, and us well in opening up and revitalising the Labour Party” (Solidarity 382, 28 October 2015).

“Stalinist ideas were drilled into swathes of labour movements and the left in decades when activists could see the USSR (or Cuba, China, Albania) as practical examples of the alternative to capitalism. Today we have a more demoralised Stalinists and Stalinoids: while sometimes loud in denunciation of Tory misdeeds, they generally see no further in positive policy than what were only stepping stones for Stalinism in its heyday: economic nationalism, bureaucratic state-directed economic development…

The Article 50 fiasco, and the Labour leaders’ waffle about a “People’s Brexit”, cannot but have been shaped by nationalist anti-EU prejudices in the Stalinist-influenced left. Stalinist bureaucratic manipulation fits with the Blairite heritage: “policy development” means not debate in the rank and file leading up to conference decisions, but formulas handed down by clever people in the Leader’s Office. The office’s response to the Copeland by-election has been to get another “Straight Left” old-timer, Steve Howell, seconded from the PR company he now owns….

Martin Thomas.  The dangers of Stalinism in Labour. Alliance for Workers’ Liberty.

Of particular interest are the claims about the EU, “Fletcher was known to have clashed with Corbyn’s director of strategy and communications on a range of issues, including the EU.” and “the Labour leaders’ waffle about a “People’s Brexit”.

This article, published by those Simon Fletcher is said to be close to (aka Socialist Action), which argues against the fantasy that there is a “People’s Brexit”, may help explain his departure.

There is no ‘People’s Brexit’  By Tom O’Leary. Socialist Economic Bulletin. (Published by Ken Livingstone, Simon Fletcher’s former employer)

There is no socialist or even ‘people’s Brexit’. Everyone operating in the UK will still be subject to the laws of the market. The problem will be that the market will suddenly be much smaller and less productive than the EU Single Market the UK has been participating in for the last 25 years. If the Tories continue to get their way, there will also be a stripping away of the workers’ environmental and consumer rights that were instituted under the EU’s ‘Social Chapter’. These have long been a Tory target for abolition in the UK. Post-Brexit, the economy will be operating behind a series of tariff and non-tariff barriers as others protect their markets. All of these will make the economy less competitive and will increase costs.

Of course, the pound could depreciate sharply again to offset these disadvantages, but this would lower living standards and real incomes even further. If currency devaluations alone were the answer then Britain would be an earthly paradise. In 1940 there were 5 US Dollars to the pound. Now there are 1.25. Over the same period the relative size of the UK in the world economy has shrunk dramatically in real terms, to less than one-third its proportion of world GDP, 2.3% now versus 7.3% in 1940.

There is a widespread notion on the right that Brexit will lead to ‘taking back control’ of the economy. Unfortunately, this is also shared by important sections of the left. It is a delusion. The 1930s saw a whole series of countries taking back control, in what might be called an early anti-globalisation movement. Although the authors of these policies are now widely and rightly derided their arguments will actually be very familiar.

It was said that other countries were taking our jobs, they are dumping their output on us causing our industries to fail and that those industries need protecting and government support, or state aid. Once we have done that, then we would be able to trade freely with the whole world. Of course, the more virulent version also included vile invective against foreigners, immigrants, Jews, gay men and others. When the economic policies went spectacularly wrong, the racist invective became policy.

The reason these policies failed spectacularly should be clear. Behind the protective barriers, costs rise, potential markets are closed off (especially as they respond with barriers of their own), industry becomes less not more productive, profits decline and workers are laid off. The economic crisis that ensued was finally resolved only by general rearmament.

Economics aside Milne, it is said,  is equally no friend of the politics of the internationalist supporters of Another Europe is Possible.

And he has this in his file: Seumas Milne: Charlie Hebdo Had it Coming to them.

More detailed background:

WHAT WAS STRAIGHT LEFT? AN INTRODUCTION BY LAWRENCE PARKER

Straight Left’s origins lie in the left pro-Soviet oppositions that emerged in the Communist Party of Great Britain in the 1960s. In this period, a definite ‘party within a party’ emerged, with figures such as Sid French, district secretary of Surrey CPGB, becoming key leaders. The general critique that emerged from this faction was a concern over the CPGB leadership distancing itself from the Soviet Union (such as around the invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1968) and other ‘socialist’ countries; a preference for a more ‘workerist’ identity (for example, the faction would have been happy with the CPGB’s paper remaining as the Daily Worker in 1966) and a concentration on workplaces/trade unions; and a sense that the party was squandering its resources in futile election contests and alienating the left of the Labour Party, with whom it was meant to be developing a close relationship on the British road to socialism (BRS), the CPGB programme. However, a significant part of the faction felt that the BRS was ‘reformist’ and ‘revisionist’ in all its guises from 1951, counter-posing a revolutionary path to the parliamentary road to socialism envisaged in the CPGB’s existing programme.

Read the rest of the article on A Hatful of History.

 

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.

with 5 comments

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.

with 9 comments

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)