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Momentum: Members Must Join Labour.

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Founder Jon Lansman convinces committee to sign up to new structure and rules in attempt to settle disputes.

Momentum, the grassroots pro-Jeremy Corbyn campaign group, has agreed a new constitution that will require its members to join the Labour party, in an attempt to resolve a bitter fight about its future.

After Corbyn emailed Momentum’s 20,000 members in December to ask them to respond to a survey about how it should be organised and run, its founder Jon Lansman drew up a new structure and rules, which he then persuaded members of its steering committee to sign up to.

In an email message to the committee, seen by the Guardian, Lansman said: “We must put behind us the paralysis that has for months bedevilled all our national structures and focus on our most urgent task – winning the general election that could come within months.”

(NOTE HERE IS THE e-mail, An email from Jon Lansman to the Momentum Steering Committee

Dear Colleagues

I am writing to explain why, in consultation with a number of others in Momentum, the Leader’s office and trade unions that have supported Jeremy Corbyn, I have decided to propose today that we immediately act to put Momentum on the proper footing that those dependant on the success of Jeremy’s leadership need it to be and our members want it to be.
Most of our members joined Momentum because they support Jeremy Corbyn and want to help him achieve what he is trying to do. We must put behind us the paralysis that has for months bedevilled all our national structures, and focus on our most urgent task – winning the general election that could come within months, by turning Labour into an effective force committed to that task, and to the transformative government that would follow.
I have also taken legal advice, based on a review of a substantial body of Momentum records, which is that in order to operate effectively as an organisation with members, Momentum needs written rules or a constitution with which all its members agree, and in our current circumstances, the only way of agreeing such a constitution which is binding on the relationship between the organisation and our members is to seek the individual consent of each of our members and affiliates.
The papers which are included in this mailing set out:

The results of the survey initiated by Jeremy Corbyn’s pre-Christmas message to Momentum members, which indicate members’ overwhelming support for the type of organisation we will continue to build, action-focused, rooted in our communities, wholly committed to the Labour Party, and involving our members directly in decision-making;
A constitution which establishes a sustainable democratic framework for the sort of organisation we need – an outwards-looking, campaigning organisation to change and strengthen the Labour Party, not to mirror its structures. This constitution would apply from now but would be reviewed in due course and be subject to amendments;
A paper on interim governance
A paper on election process for the new National Coordinating Group to replace existing regional and national structures.
The Constitution may not be perfect in everyone’s eyes, but, whatever process we follow, it is common ground that we need one, and it is surely better to have it now and amend it later by a process that is indisputable. As well as setting out the essential elements of our aims and objectives as they have always appeared on our website and in our public statements, the constitution:

Reinforces our wholehearted commitment to the Labour Party by restating our aim of working towards affiliation, and requiring all members to be party members;
Provides for elections and key decisions including changes to the constitution to be made by our members themselves;
Provides for a structure with minimum bureaucracy reflecting members desire to focus externally on organising and campaigning through our local groups, liberation networks and the Labour Party rather than internally on making policy for ourselves.
If this constitution is agreed, the effect would be to wind up the SC, the NC and CAC, with immediate effect, though the conference would go ahead but under the new rules, no motions would be considered.
If you are happy with all these proposals as they stand, please indicate by email. If there is a majority – I think we all recognise that we shall continue to disagree on this matter – I propose that we seek the approval of members immediately.
In solidarity

Jon Lansman
Chair
Momentum National Steering Group

Lansman claims to have drawn up the proposals “in consultation with a number of others in Momentum, the leader’s office and trade unions that have supported Jeremy Corbyn”.

The group had been riven by factional disputes since Corbyn’s re-election in September, amid reports that it had been infiltrated by Trotskyists. Corbyn had urged its members to resolve their differences, telling the Guardian in December that he would like to see them join Labour.

Momentum issued a public statement on Tuesday night that said elections would now be held to a new ruling body and its existing governing structures dissolved. It will then seek to become an affiliate of the Labour party.

“Momentum is moving forwards as the outward-looking, campaigning movement that our members want it to be. Over the coming months, Momentum will continue to grow, building our movement to encourage more people to participate in politics and help Labour harness its new mass membership to win power and rebuild and transform Britain,” the statement said.

Under the new constitution, decision-making will be thrown open to votes by members. In the survey, 80% of members favoured decision-making by one member one vote, rather than a delegate structure.

Members will also have to join Labour – a new rule that could force out figures including Jill Mountford, of the Alliance for Workers’ Liberty, and former Militant member Nick Wrack, because they are excluded from the party. Fellow Momentum activist Jackie Walker is suspended over antisemitism claims, which she denies.

Mountford accused Lansman of staging a coup that she and other Momentum activists plan to fight. “This is a coup. We are not splitting and we are not going to be provoked by this,” she said. “We are going to call a conference for grassroots activists and we will to seek to reverse these changes. The constitution has been imposed, we are going to continue to fight for a democratic organisation.

“We still have local organisations to attend and I don’t think activists are going to accept this lying down. We will campaign to reverse this,” she said.

“I am in shock. Jon called tonight for an impromptu, unplanned steering committee meeting which was conducted online between 7.40pm and 8.30pm. The upshot is that Momentum’s steering committee, the national committee and the conference arrangements committee, have all been dissolved.”

Mountford and Wrack have been among those fighting against Lansman’s plans to throw open decision-making to one-member-one-vote by the membership. At a fractious meeting of the national committee last month, they narrowly won a battle to make February’s planned Momentum conference into what Mountford called “a national delegate based conference with decision-making powers” which would debate the details of a policy platform.

But to Lansman and his allies, that strayed too close to replicating the structures of a traditional political party. Momentum sources said the conference would now be “an exciting day of activist training, workshops and networking”.

According to Mountford, Lansman has not been in touch with her since the national committee meeting on 3 December. She said the steering committee had sent out plans to hold a meeting on Wednesday at Tessa headquarters in London, an event she believes prompted Lansman’s actions on Tuesday night.

The relationship between the steering committee, which has agreed the new constitution, and the national committee, where some of the most contentious debates have been held, is disputed.

Comments:

I have argued, as people know, that although it has done sterling work, Momentum risked become a sectarian playground.

This is one of the reasons I have not become a member, the other being that round here it is not needed.

I have sympathy with with those like Jill Mountford, who are true labour movement people,

I have none whatsoever with those who wish to turn Momentum away from Labour and make it a vehicle for their own projects, and in particular with at least one person (see above) who has indulged in factionalising from Militant, the SWP, Socialist Alliance, Respect (!), TUSC and – I could list a lot lot more.

More Details:

CONSTITUTION SUMMARY
1. SUMMARY OF CONSTITUTION
Membership:
The constitution requires all new Momentum members to be Labour Party members. New members who join Momentum must be members of the Labour Party.

If you are currently paying Momentum membership fees but not a member of Labour, you have until 1 July to join the Party. Momentum members who have been suspended from Labour, but not expelled, will remain members of Momentum.

How key decisions are made:
Under this constitution decisions can be made either by the National Coordinating Group (NCG) which includes representatives of members, affiliates and Labour public office holders, or by ordinary members through a digital democracy process. This aims to achieve a broad and representative group to regularly meet and discuss the needs of the organisation while maintaining the membership as the ultimate decision makers on key issues. The NCG is also overseen by a Members’ Council consisting of 50 members randomly chosen by lot.

1) National Coordinating Group (NCG):
The National Coordinating Group will comprise:

12 members, four from each of three divisions (a) North and Scotland, (b) the Midlands, Wales and the West, (c) the South East. At least two of the members elected from each division should be women, and at least one should self-identify as BAME (black, Asian, ethnic minority).
4 Momentum members who are Labour public officer holders (of the UK, European or Scottish Parliaments, Welsh or London Assemblies, Elected Mayors or Police Commissioners, or Labour members of a British local authority).
6 members nominated by affiliated trade unions
4 members nominated by other affiliated organisations
If the 12 members who are elected do not include one person who self-identifies as disabled, one person who self-identifies as LGBT+ and two young persons under 30, then up to 4 more places will be elected to ensure these groups are represented.

All members can stand and vote in elections for positions on the NCG. Elections to the NCG will take place online or by other accessible means, with each member having a vote. Please find details of the election process and timetable here.

The constitution stipulates that the NCG should facilitate self-organisation for members of liberation groups within Momentum – LGBT+, disabled, women and black Asian and ethnic minority (BAME) – and campaign for increased representation for liberation groups within the Labour Party. The NCG must ensure that Momentum liberation networks have the support to organise campaigns and are able to advise and make recommendations to the NCG.

2) Members Council:
So that members can directly participate in developing the activities, resources and campaigns of Momentum, a Members’ Council will be chosen randomly by lot every 6 months. The goal is for the ideas, inspiration and innovation of Momentum’s activities to come from the grassroots, and be as responsive to members’ needs as possible. The first Members’ Council will be drawn soon after the NCG has been convened.

3) Digital Democracy Platform:
Momentum will provide a digital democracy platform to ensure that all members are empowered to initiate and vote on campaign priorities, constitutional amendments or overturning decisions by the NCG. All members will be able to vote online with each member having a vote. Any members who are unable to vote online can contact the National Office to vote via other accessible means.

2. WHY WAS THE CONSTITUTION ADOPTED?
The results of the survey sent to Momentum members show that there is a widespread consensus about the type of organisation members want – a grassroots, campaigning political movement that can help Labour win power on a transformative platform. 40.35% of members responded to the survey. Campaigning for Labour victories and helping members become more active in the Labour Party were the most popular options for Momentum’s priorities in 2017, chosen by 71.71% and 68.23% of respondents respectively.

80.60% of respondents said that key decisions should be taken by One Member One Vote, rather than by delegates at regional and national conferences and committees (12.50%). 79.29% of respondents said all members should have a say in electing their representatives, as opposed to national representatives being elected by delegates from local groups (16.16%).

Following this decisive response, the Steering Committee voted to introduce the constitution for Momentum to deliver the kind of action-focussed, campaigning, Labour-focussed organisation our members have said they want. The constitution puts decision making power in the hands of members with direct democracy and OMOV elections central to the organisation.

3. DEMOCRACY Q&A
How can the constitution be changed?
A member of the NCG can propose an amendment to the constitution or members bring a petition proposing an amendment to constitution with the support of 5% of members or 1,000 members.

The NCG will consider the proposed amendment. If the NCG unanimously agrees to the amendment it will be adopted. If the NCG passes the amendment, but not unanimously, it will go to a one member one vote (OMOV) online ballot and will pass with 50% of votes casts. If the NCG rejects the proposal, members can bring a petition signed by 10% of membership, which will trigger a vote among all members online or by other accessible means. An amendment will then be adopted with the support of at least 50% of votes cast in an OMOV ballot of the membership and at least 30% of those members eligible to vote.

How can members vote on campaign priorities?
A proposal on Momentum’s campaign priorities can be made by a member of the NCG, or by members’ bringing a petition with the support of 5% of members or 1,000 members.

The NCG considers the proposal. If the NCG approves the proposal, it will be adopted. If the NCG rejects the proposal, but a petition is brought with support of 10% of the membership, then the proposal will go to a vote among all members, via one member one vote online or by other accessible means. A campaign priority will then be adopted where at least 50% of votes cast in an OMOV ballot of the membership where at least 30% of those members eligible to vote.

How can other key decisions be taken to a vote by members?
If a member wants to challenge a decision by the NCG in relation to guidance or directives issued to members, groups or networks, a petition can be brought signed by 10% of the membership. This will take the decision to a vote among all members via one member one vote online or by other accessible means. The decision will be overturned where at least 50% of votes cast in an OMOV ballot of the membership where at least 30% of members eligible to vote are in favour of doing so. Additional proposals to the NCG can be made by the Members’ Council.

Moreover, a majority of the NCG can vote for any decision to go to an OMOV ballot of all members.

How do I participate in the elections for National Coordinating Group (NCG)?
You can find details of the election process and timetable here. When the election takes place, statements by all candidates will be circulated and all members will have an online vote.

If any members are unable to vote online, please call 07508255697 before 17 February, to vote by other accessible means.

What does this mean for my local group or network?
It is hoped that your local group or network is able to continue as usual within the framework of Momentum’s constitution. The constitution is intended to bring clarity to Momentum’s purpose, goals and organisation, improve transparency and reduce internal bureaucracy. Therefore, there will be more time, energy and resources directed at supporting local organising, activity and campaigns.

What is happening to Momentum’s Conference?
Momentum’s Inaugural National Conference will take place on 18 February. This will be organised by the National Office and will be open to all members. To reflect the priorities of the membership, the Conference will focus on the theme ‘Momentum’s role in Labour’s General Election Strategy.’ It will be a day of activist training, political education workshops, networking, political discussion and debate. More details will be announced soon.

What is happening to Momentum’s Regional Networks, National Committee and Steering Committee?
Momentum’s constitution does not include Regional Networks, a National Committee or Steering Committee.

It is hoped that members will still wish to organise and coordinate activity, network and share best practice within regions and areas, which can be done informally online or at meetings and events, providing it is within the framework of the constitution and the code of ethics. However, the Regional Networks will no longer be formally convened as part of the governance structure of the organisation.

Momentum’s business will be carried out by the National Coordinating Group (NCG). All members will be able to stand for a position on the NCG and vote for their representatives.

So that members can directly participate in developing the activities, resources and campaigns of Momentum, a Members’ Council will be chosen randomly by lot every 6 months. The goal is for the ideas, inspiration and innovation of Momentum’s activities to come from the grassroots, and be as responsive to members’ needs as possible. The first Members’ Council will be drawn soon after the NCG has been convened.

4. MEMBERSHIP Q&A
The constitution requires all new Momentum members to be Labour Party members. New members who join Momentum must be members of the Labour Party.

If you are a Momentum member but not a member of Labour, you have until 1 July to join the Party. Momentum members who have been suspended from Labour, but not expelled, will remain members of Momentum.

Who can be a member?
Membership is open to anyone who:

Is 14 or over
Is a member of the Labour Party and no other political party nor an organisation disallowed by National Coordination Group
Agrees to be bound by the rules of Momentum, including its code of ethics
What do I do if I am not a Labour member?
In order for Momentum to achieve its aims of helping Labour become a transformative and socialist party of government, Momentum is aiming to affiliate to the Labour Party. New members of Momentum must be members of Labour to join Momentum, and existing members of Momentum the opportunity to join the Party by 1 July. You can join Labour here.

What do I do if I was suspended from Labour or if I was rejected as a Supporter?
Momentum members who have been suspended from Labour, but not expelled, will remain members of Momentum.

If you have been suspended from the Labour Party you can appeal your suspension. To appeal, email labourmembership@labour.org.uk and appeals@labour.org.uk or call 0345 092 2299.

If you have previously applied to be an Affiliated or Registered Supporter of the Labour Party and your application was rejected, you cannot appeal. However, this does not preclude you from applying to become a full member of the Party now. We encourage all Momentum members to join Labour as a full member. You can join here.

If you have been expelled from the Labour Party or were prevented from joining, you may be deemed to have resigned from Momentum. While you can participate in campaigns and activities organised by a local group, network or Momentum nationally, you are not able to be a member, and therefore cannot hold a position within Momentum, vote in elections or hold other membership rights.

If you are not able to be a member of Momentum, please email membership@peoplesmomentum.com.

If you need to change the name of a key contact or position holder in your group, please fill in the group verification form with the new details.

How do I cancel my membership?
To cancel your membership, you can email membership@peoplesmomentum.com.

I agree with the constitution – what shall I do?
You don’t have to do anything; by continuing to pay your membership dues, you are consenting to the constitution.

I don’t agree to the constitution – what shall I do?
It is hoped that this constitution will satisfy members by ensuring that the overwhelming majority of time, energy and resources is used supporting members, local groups and networks to achieve Momentum’s aims. The constitution makes it possible for members to change its rules and make amendments, so it can be altered over time to reflect any changes in the wishes of the membership.

However, if you wish to opt-out, you can email membership@peoplesmomentum.com to cancel your membership.

5. OPERATIONS AND STAFFING
How does the constitution affect the day to day running of Momentum?
The staff and volunteer team at the National Office will continue to support local groups, facilitate the formation of new groups, handle enquiries, coordinate Momentum’s ongoing national campaigns, support members to get more active within the Party and campaign for Labour in elections.

There are currently a number of permanent and temporary staff. The staff team will organise elections to the National Coordinating Group (NCG) in the coming weeks. Once these positions have been elected and the NCG has been formed, the NCG will review Momentum’s staffing structure and establish an open application process for all permanent staffing roles.

Who should I contact if I have further questions?
If you have any further questions about the constitution or the implications for your local organising, please email beth.fosterogg@peoplesmomentum.com.

It is hoped that the constitution will enable members to draw a line under the confusion, internal squabbling and lack of transparency within the organisation. It will enable the majority of time, energy and resources to be used to develop local groups and members.

6. FLOWCHARTS
Campaign Priorities
Constitution Amendments

 

Written by Andrew Coates

January 11, 2017 at 12:25 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

Save Momentum from Saboteurs – Owen Jones. Statement by Momentum (External Faction, Majority ‘A’ Tendency).

with 8 comments

Image result for Judean popular front

People’s Front (British Left Training Manuel). 

Momentum is a beacon of hope. It must be saved from the saboteurs. 

Before I begin this I note the following:

  • When Momentum was set up there were discussions by long-standing left-wing activists, members of the Labour Party and/or Trade Unions, engaged in anti-austerity campaigning and a variety of social movements. The potential for small organised left groups to join Momentum, bathing in the reflected glory of Jeremy Corbyn,  and use it for their own ends it was noted. One sectarian group, the Socialist Party even went so far as to try to set up its own front, called Trade Union Momentum, in order to recruit for their organisation (Steps towards setting up Trade Union Momentum. The Socialist. 9th of January 2016).
  • The principal problem appeared to be the presence of groups trying to recruit for their ‘party building’. That is, to split off (as they call it) the ‘centrists’ and ‘populist’ left from the dyed-in-the-wool ‘reformists’  and get them to join their own ranks, either overtly or in classic ‘entryist’ style, through various ‘fronts’ (one might envisage something like the ‘socialist platform’ in Momentum.
  • Leading figures in Momentum, notably Jon Lansman, were informed – repeatedly informed of these concerns. This is because the core of the original Momentum leadership are people we know and hardly unaware of this kind of thing. They were said to agree with us.
  • Having expressed these views, and stated my own belief, that the Labour party should be encouraged to develop as a modern inclusive  democratic socialist party, and not badgered from a half-in half-out group, I was encouraged by Momentum’s initial development. Notably its support for the Other Europe is Possible campaign, supporting a Remain Vote in the Referendum.
  • I and many others from the European democratic left side have not been encouraged by the launch of an “our Brexit” campaign linked with Momentum without the members being consulted.
  • I finally note that it the divisions in Momentum cannot be described as simply between “young idealistic” social movement types and older ‘Trotskyists’. The Trotskyists are battling ‘older’ people, and not all ‘Trotskyists’ are ‘old’, far from it.  The way the decision on ‘Our Brexit’ ( just cited) was reached raises concerns wider than any of these splits.

It is, these points in mind,  hardly out of the blue that the present crisis has happened.

Comrade Owen begins,

These are the things I want to write about, not the internal woes of the left. The left has had something of a reputation for turning infighting into an art form, immortalised by that People’s Front of Judea sketch in Monty Python’s Life of Brian. But an emergent crisis in Britain’s left is so serious that, sadly, it cannot be ignored.

Momentum – the grassroots movement set up in the aftermath of Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership victory – is currently facing a takeover bid by Trotskyist sectarians. If they succeed, Momentum will be destroyed. The most prominent sectarian figures are embittered veterans of struggles from the 1970s and 80s, people who have only experienced defeat, and who won’t let an unexpected opportunity afforded by the seismic political developments of the last two years slip through their fingers. This is their last chance.

They jump from organisation to organisation, and are adept at manipulating internal structures for their own advantage: sitting out long boring meetings, coordinating interventions, playing victim when it suits. They’re not interested in say, door-to-door campaigning, but rather in debating their obscure pet issues with long-winded interventions at meetings on a Thursday evening.

The only point that really strikes home is the lack of ‘door-to-door campaigning’.

But this is not a  fault unique to the ‘sectarians’.

One could argue that setting up a parallel organisation to normal Labour bodies is bound to divert energy away from this kind of grass-roots work.

Owen strays into perhaps excessive prose in the following,

Their opponents are younger, idealistic, campaign-oriented and pluralistic, lacking Machiavellian strategic ability – all of which the sectarians exploit. The sectarians smear their opponents as rightwingers, Stalinists, bureaucrats, as having ulterior and sinister motives (this article will be dismissed as the work of a rightwing establishment careerist in the service of a Guardian conspiracy to destroy the left). Everything goes wrong, they believe, not because of their own almost farcical strategic ineptitude, but because of the betrayal of others. Momentum offers hope to young people who have long been demoralised by politics. Those wrecking Momentum – if they succeed – could destroy that hope, and that is unforgivable.

It is wrong to call these forces “Trotskyist sectarians” as if there is a common unity amongst them.

This is not classic ‘entryism’: there are very diverse groups. Some of them work well with other people on particular objectives – such as promoting a social Europe, or, say defending secular democratic demands in Iran.  It is true, in a very general sense, that many of them refer to the Russian Revolution and Lenin (something I personally cannot empathise with). Others – I am thinking of former members of Left Unity –  have more in common with 1970s New Left radical groups than with the kind of moribund organisations at present hanging on as the Socialist Party and Socialist Workers Party. Some of the opponents of the Momentum leadership have their own personal agenda, which appears to derive more from identity politics than the left, sectarian or not.

These are small groups, groupuscles if you will, or just alliances of affinity. There is no common unity – just cite the words Israel and Zionism, and, hey, see! –  except on organisational issues within Momentum.

It is therefore not just false but highly speculative  to claim that,

the sectarians are highly disciplined, highly organised, and highly experienced. The interests of their own sects are far more important than any movement. Only their sect, they believe, has the correct politics: everybody else’s are fatally flawed. They have no faith in the Labour party. Momentum, for them, is an embryonic political party. The prize is Momentum’s contact data, containing the details of tens of thousands of people. At an opportune time, they will walk away from Labour and found a new party, which will get 300 votes in a byelection. They will triumphantly hail these as 300 votes for socialism.

The ‘new party’ line, which is the decrepit Socialist Party’s objective, is too marginal even to bother with.

But…

Having said this I  must say that the following struck home:

Take the barrister Nick Wrack, one of the sectarian leaders. Last year he stood for the catchily named Trade Union and Socialist Coalition in Camberwell and Peckham, and secured 0.6% of the vote. There’s no life for the left in the Labour party, he told me in 2014.“Time for [a] new party that stands for socialism,” he lectured me before the general election. I was right to call for more working-class representation, he tells me, “but it won’t come from Labour,” he tells me, after Labour’s defeat.

Owen forgets: membership of the SWP, Respect, the Socialist Alliance, the Independent Socialist Network,  and a host of other groups……

And, “Nick worked as a journalist for the socialist newspaper Militant. He became its editor in 1994.”

But surely these are sectarian points?

And is this a fair summary of the other side?

The younger Momentum protagonists aligned to Lansman – who himself has gone on a political journey away from top-down structures – are known as “movementists”: those who dislike hierarchies and who are attracted by social movements.

There are problems, which Owen chose to ignore in his introduction to this book, about ‘movementist’ democracy. In  Podemos: In the Name of the People’ by Chantal Mouffe and Íñigo Errejón (foreword by Owen Jones) Jones celebrated this party’s success. But its own “democracy on-line” has worked to consolidate the party leadership. Critics, whom we have covered at length on this Blog, have asserted that Podemos is now organised on a “Pyramidal” “vertical” basis. It is said to have led to the withering away of the “circles” at the base of Podemos. It has, to put it simply, not been able to create structures  – to many critics –  that are markedly better than the old system. Podemos is now undergoing its own internal ‘factional battles, though one has to recognise that it’s on a healthy basis, that is, with real policy alternatives at stake.

I am not a member of Momentum, to the reasons I outlined at the start. Some elderly local people may be.

But it would seem that some kind of synthesis between these systems could be devised.

This would surely be preferable to this call for Armageddon:

 ….Jeremy Corbyn. An intervention by him would stop Momentum being taken over, allowing its rebirth as an open, campaign-focused movement. Without that, the sectarians will win. They must be stopped in their tracks. So much hope, so much optimism. We can’t let it end in rancour and betrayal.

Reports on Saturday 3d December  Momentum Meeting Round-UpClarion.

Written by Andrew Coates

December 8, 2016 at 1:17 pm

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

with 10 comments

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

Momentum Crisis: The Steering Group Majority Answers Critics – some comments.

with 3 comments

Image result for momentum

What Kind of New Politics? 

I am a difficult position commenting on the crisis of Momentum.

Not a member, but sympathetic to its broad direction, not with a card, but knowing many of the people involved in the dispute, in some cases for many years..

Like many my basic principle is that  I would like to see a strong Labour democratic socialist left.

As Tony Benn often said, politics should be about issues, not personalities. He was optimistic, and perhaps ignored the history of democracies since Pericles, but in the Labour Party one ought to try to focus on this, rather than the merits, or otherwise of Jeremy Corbyn and the Shadow Cabinet.

Firstly, I would like to see some meat on the bones of anti-austerity politics. That is serious policies on issues like public ownership instead of private public services, social security (Labour has no developed ideas comparable to the TUC/Unemployed Centres’ Combine Welfare Charter), housing, education, health, renationalisation, union rights, low pay, local authorities,  what UNITE calls Brexit on our terms, that is trying to salvage what we can, (not the ridiculous denial strategy of those who propose a ‘People’s Brexit’ after the defeat of collectivism and Another Europe is Possible in the Referendum), and…. I could continue the list.

Campaigning on these topics in the wider community is a way of connecting with our electorate and helping make it grow.

Secondly, like many I am not prepared to be silent about the disagreements left-wing internationalists have with the party leadership on issues such as Syria  and the need to fight all forms – state or not – of  reactionary Islamism.

Finally I would like to see Labour win elected positions, from councillors to MPs.

Momentum has become central to this democratic socialist project and therefore I, and others, are bound to react to the present dispute.

I do not want a fight between different tendencies, factions, and let’s be frank, groupuscules.

The present dispute centres on this, “Lansman, the founder of Momentum, was tonight accused of behaving in an “autocratic” manner after the organisation voted to delay a meeting of its national committee to December and that the vote on its founding principles in February 2017 would be using a one member, one vote system rather than a delegate system.” (Steven Bush New Statesman.)

This decision was opposed. The following resolution explains why,

“This meeting of the London Momentum censures the national Steering Committee for cancelling the meeting of the National Committee that was scheduled for 5 November and for agreeing a method of organising the national conference without waiting for the National Committee to discuss it.

“We do not recognise the legitimacy of the Steering Committee to make those decisions.

“We call for these decisions of the national Steering Committee on the conference and the National Committee to be rescinded and for the NC to proceed as originally scheduled on 5 November.”

Christine Shawcroft  explains why Momentum decided as they did.

These are the key sections of her article published today.

Members can vote for what ever kind of Momentum they want (Left Futures)

..what works as a temporary expedient when an organisation is first being set up and finding its feet is not necessarily what would work best in the long term. Like all new organisations, Momentum has had its teething troubles (as I run a day nursery, I know all about those!). The first people involved in trying to get it going were, by definition, more versed in the ways of the ‘old’ politics than the ‘new’. Working with enthusiastic young people with a different perspective on things has meant we’ve all been travelling along a learning curve. The temporary structures that were set up tended to be modelled on those of the Labour Party – decidedly not the new politics! Many local groups felt that a delegate structure tended to prevent grassroots participation by default.

The (temporary) Steering Group has therefore decided that the best way of involving all the members is to, well, involve them. Proposals for how we organise will be put out to the whole membership, any one of whom could also put their own proposals or amendments. There would still be a place for local groups and delegate structures, but final decisions on Momentum’s core politics, our code of conduct, and our democratic structures could be voted on by our greatest resource – the membership. A Founding Conference in spring next year could be live streamed and proposals voted for online.

On the Steering Group we feel that this could well answer the call for a new, inclusive and democratic way of doing things. And if the members disagree, and really want to ape Labour Party structures and have rigid decision making delegate bodies – well, it’s up to them. They can vote for whatever kind of Momentum they want: not only is that the new way of doing politics, that’s democracy!

Tony Greenstein has stuck is oar in and given the reasons for objecting to this idea.

Jon Lansman stages a Coup D’état in Momentum as the National Committee is cancelled by the Steering Committee.

The  Long Awaited Founding Conference of Momentum Will Be a Virtual Conference!

Describing this in typically restrained manner (“Coup D’état”)  Greenstein notes of Momentum’s way of evolving more permanent structures and policies,

Over the coming months, members will propose their ideas on Momentum’s aims, ethics, and structure. We will use digital technology to ensure that all members can be involved and shape Momentum’s future.”

This is the very opposite of democracy.” “It is designed to atomise individual members and undermine conference as the collective decision-making body of Momentum. It underlines the extent to which sections of the left have internalised the defeats of the past decades. It is Thatcher’s union ‘reforms’ writ large.

As somebody who respects (most, Greenstein being a major exception) individuals on both sides of this controversy (and if you look at the names who have backed Lansmann you will recognise that is not a straightforward division between ‘right’ and ‘left’), it would appear that there are merits in the majority’s decision.

It is also possible both to understand exasperation at it, and the way it was voted on.

At the same time many will harbour the feeling that some figures emerging in the local groups, including those with very very long histories of non- and even anti-Labour activism behind them, are not always greeted by people, like Christine, who have been Labour stalwarts for their entire lives.

One can also agree that  a meeting called with 19 hours notice is not the best forum for such a controversial decision.

But if a Conference is not to be the traditional sectarian bear pit there needs to be this kind of participation.

If it One Member One Vote (OMOV) was good enough to elect the leader of the Party it must have some virtues.

To repeat: I want to see a strong democratic socialist left, not the left of the party riven by factionalism. 

Update: Latest in the growing Row.

Dear Comrade, 31 October 2016

Re: A meeting of Momentum National Committee delegates to discuss the present situation & consider solutions

Over the past few days we have all been involved in discussions with Momentum members about the concerns which have arisen from the decisions of the Steering Committee to cancel the meeting of the NC due to take place on 5 November and to go ahead with a national conference with online voting of all members.

You will also know the consternation these decisions have caused and the response from London, Eastern, Northern and South East regions.

Below is an email sent yesterday (30 October) to the Steering Committee members from Matt Wrack who is a member of the National Committee and Steering Committee. We echo those observations and comments.

We are extremely concerned that we overcome this current difficult division that has arisen as quickly as possible. Therefore, we are proposing to convene a meeting of as many NC members as possible in Birmingham next Saturday 5 November to discuss the recent events and, most importantly, consider ways to overcome the resulting differences and to move forward together.

There is no desire or intention to create any separate or parallel organisation within or in opposition to Momentum. We are all committed to building Momentum, as we are all doing at a local level. We simply want to address what we perceive to be a democratic deficit in its decision-making at the present time.

Please let us know if you can attend. If you can’t, is there someone you can send in your place?

We will send out further information about the venue and starting time along with a provisional agenda as soon as we can.

In solidarity,

Matt Wrack
Delia Mattis    ) London NC delegates
Jill Mountford   ) “ “
Nick Wrack      )  “ “
John Pickard    ) Eastern NC delegate
Steve Battlemuch ) East Midlands delegate
Michael Chessum ) Member of national Steering Committee

More:  Momentum chiefs accused of “coup” over adoption of all-member ballot Conor Pope. Labour List.

Further splits have emerged within Momentum amid claims of a “coup” after the introduction of reforms to the way it makes internal decisions.

The Corbynite group spent much of the weekend debating internal divisions over direction, structure and accountability while one senior member has forecast a “revolt for democracy” in the organisation, which recently marked its first anniversary.

The group’s founder, Jon Lansman, is at the centre of the row, having given his support to a controversial move to hand a vote to every Momentum member about how the organisation should function.

The latest tensions emerged over the decision to call an emergency meeting of Momentum’s small steering committee on Friday to discuss postponing a meeting of the much larger national committee, which had been scheduled for later this week.

See link for rest of the article.

Yet more:

Written by Andrew Coates

October 31, 2016 at 2:19 pm

The Labour Party, Trotskyism and Pabloism.

with 16 comments

They Lost….

“Trotskyism is being studied as never before” The Brent Soviet.

“But we want to speak frankly to you, comrade Trotsky, about the sectarian methods which we have observed around us and which have contributed to the setbacks and enfeebling of the vanguard. I refer to those methods which consist in violating and brutalising the revolutionary intelligence of those militants – numerous in France – who are accustomed to making up their own minds and who put themselves loyally to the school of hard facts. These are the methods which consist in interpreting with no indulgence whatever the inevitable fumblings in the search for revolutionary truth. Finally, these are the methods which attempt, by a colonisation directed from without, to dictate to the labour movement attitudes, tactics or responses which do not come from the depths of its collective intelligence. It is in large part because of this that the French section of the Fourth International has shown itself absolutely incapable not merely of reaching the masses but indeed even of forming tried and serious cadres.”

Marceau Pivert to Trotsky. 1939 (Where is the PSOP Going?  A correspondence between Marceau Pivert, Daniel Guerin and Leon Trotsky)

 

With Trotskyists about to take over the Labour Party there is interest in the ideology and politics of this current on the left.

One figure we have yet to hear mention is Michael Pablo one, of many but by far the best known, party names of a revolutionary usually called Michel Raptis. The most reviled Trotskyist of the post-war period, he has been accused of being the father of lies, liquidationism, and revisionism of all stripes and spots.  In fact his ideas and career are important to anybody concerned with Trotskyism: an illustration of its worst faults and some of its better features.

It will come as no surprise that Tendance Coatesy, as with many other leftists, owes a political and ideological debt to this outstanding individual. That his principal orthodox Trotskyist enemies were Gerry Healy, Pierre Lambert and James Cannon – all po-faced right-wing authoritarians – one cannot but help but like Pablo.

This should be borne in mind even if we accept that the fundamental premises with which he, and all Trotskyists, worked, that the Soviet Union, the Eastern Bloc, and China, not to mention countries like Cuba, had, by revolution or by bureaucratic imposition, become ‘non-capitalist’ social formations, part of a fundamentally new stage in history has been proved false. And that it’s hard to avoid acknowledging the erosion of the related belief, that ‘building revolutionary parties’ on the models laid down by Lenin and Trotsky was a realistic strategy to help create socialist societies in the capitalist world,  and overthrow the Stalinist bureaucratic ‘deformations’ in these non-capitalist countries.

Pabloism. 

The term Pabloism was first used during the splintering of Trotskyism in the 1950s. It referred to a set of positions advanced by Michael Rapitis during debates within the Fourth International, principality Pablo’s view that the “objective” growth of Stalinist-led ‘workers’ states’ ‘degenerated’ and deformed) meant that they had to have a strategy towards the mass Communist parties that could capture their base. He was accused of ‘liquidating’ the Trotskyist ‘programme’ as an independent point of reference outside of these parties.

Since many of his opponents had their own strategic alliances inside social democratic parties that disguised their true ‘programme’ (Gerry Healy’s pre-Socialist Labour League group in Labour ‘The Club‘, the original home of most UK ‘Trotksyist’ organisations and groupuscules) , not to mention  collaboration with right-wing anti-Communist elements backed by American funds (in France, in the union federation Force Ouvrière) this accusation looks  bad faith. More serious criticisms stem from the claim that Stalinist forms of Communism were a kind of ‘leap’ into a better form of society which Trotskyists should back (from the outside) and influence (from the inside).

The noise and fury (cited above) around such disagreements can only be understood by referring to earlier disputes which set the pattern for Trotskyist polemics that has endured to this day.

This process of raucous fractures and splits which can be traced back to the 1930s, notably in France. Despite the widespread impression that American Trotskyism, above all the US Socialist Workers’ party, was the lodestar of the movement, French Trotskyism was the centre of the Fourth International and many of the original parties – a country with (in the 1912 foundation, larger than the Socialist SFIO), and form 1936 ownwards a significant political player) a large Communist party to boot, and a deep-rooted socialist and communist tradition that sets it off from America. Before looking at what ‘Pabloism’ is we have to begin there.

One of the first Trotskyist groups in that country was the  la Ligue communiste founded in 1930. By the latter half of the decade there were already three main Trotskyist tendencies in the Hexagone (French Trotskyism) .

They were all organised around strong personalities: long embedded leadership is an enduring feature of Trotskyism (French Trotskyism)

Zeller’s Témoin du siècle (2000) outlines some of their disagreements. Perhaps it is most revealing on how the Trotskyists behaved after the ‘french turn’ which saw them joining the French Socialists, the SFIO.

Zeller describes their activists lecturing people on the First Congresses of the Third International and Trotsky’s line on the Chinese Revolution. Not surprisingly not everybody was impressed with these no doubt kindly meant lectures. They were kicked out of the party of Léon  Blum after, amongst other things,  a sustained campaign to build workers’ militias. For Trotsky the “La révolution française a commencé” with the wave of strikes that accompanied the election in 1936 of the Front Populaire you understand (Trotsky, Ou Va La France 1934 – 8, particularly the section on the ” milice ouvrière ” in  Socialisme et lutte armée.)

In his Mémoire d’un dinosaure trotskiste (1999) Yvan Craipeau describes the various positions Trotsky took on French politics,, from ‘entryism’ in the SFIO as the bolchevik-léniniste tendency, to efforts to influence Marceau Pivert’s “Gauche révolutionnaire” both while it remained in the Socialist party, and later (see above) when it was the independent Parti socialiste ouvrier et paysan (PSOP). founded in 1938. Pivert memorably replied to Trotsky about their  efforts at hectoring instruction, that his party members “are accustomed to making up their own minds ” and that they “put themselves loyally to the school of hard facts” – not Trotsky’s international prognostics. 

Trotsky replied by, behind his back,  describing Pivert (as described by Zeller) as a false revolutionary in the mould of  a provincial school teacher.

The entire history is of  bitterness and great  complexity (one I am familiar with in case anybody wants a Trainspotter lesson…).  People wishing the investigate further should begin with these two books and look at this Wikipedia entries: Trotskisme en France. French Trotskyists.

But all this ill-will was a mere foreshadowing of the later splits in the Trotskyist movement.

Entryism.

To jump from those years: the key issues in the 1954 split included entryism (which Pablo advocated inside the mass Communist parties and well as social democracy) and this,

Pablo’s elevation of the “objective process” to “the sole determining factor” reducing the subjective factor (the consciousness and organization of the vanguard party) to irrelevance, the discussion of “several centuries” of “transition” (later characterized by Pablo’s opponents as “centuries of deformed workers states”) and the suggestion that revolutionary leadership might be provided by the Stalinist parties rather than the Fourth International—the whole analytic structure of Pabloist revisionism emerged. The Genesis of Pabloism.

Pablo indeed took seriously the prospect of a Third World war. In these conditions he  backed, and enforce, this entryist strategy known as ” entrism sui generis ” inside (where possible) Stalinist Communist parties, and just about everything  that moved on the social democratic left. This meant not just concealing  membership of the Trotskyist movement,  even to the point of point-bank denial of any link. Famously as the text above states he considered that it might take decades of such underground work for their efforts to bear fruit.

Apart from its inherent implausibility the prospect of ‘centuries’ of clandestine burrowing away seemed to  consign the Trotskyists to the fate of the Marranos, ‘converted’ Jews who ostensibly  submitted to Catholicism but practised their faith in secret.

The strategy had little impact in the Communist parties – in contrast to long-term and independently initiated entryism in the British Labour Party by Trotskyists (the secretive and bureaucratic ‘Militant’ group) who were distant from his Fourth International.

After winning support for these policies, and even a degree of power over the International, helped by the departure of Healey, Lambert and Canon (cited above) Rapitis by the end of the same decade  plunged into a new cause: anti-colonialism and the ‘Arab Revolution’. He lost control of the Fourth International to Ernest Mandel and Pierre Frank. He retired from it in the mid-sixties.

Romance about epochs of hidden revolutionary labour aside, the  idea of working within the French Parti communiste français (PCF) was, even at the time,  in view of the party’s  top-down structure  and intolerant culture, ill-thought out and profoundly misjudged. It was equally parasitic on the success of the party being ‘entered’ (as indeed the experience of the Labour Party indicates).

Nevertheless French Trotskyism emerged more openly on the 60s political scene when a group of young Communist students, led by Alain Krivine, founded the independent Jeunesse communiste révolutionnaire in 1966. (1) Pablo did however put heart and soul in supporting the anti-colonial struggle in Algeria (a fight in which Krivine was also engaged) and was imprisoned for gun running to the independence fighters. He had a  brief period of influence in  the post-independence (5th of July 1962) Front de Libération Nationale, (FLN) notably on the leader Ben Bella (1916 – 2012) promoting the ideas of self-management. The Houari Boumédiènne,  1965 military coup put paid to that. (2)

The later politics of Pablo’s the  Tendance marxiste-révolutionnaire internationale (TMRI), and its French affiliate, the Alliance marxiste révolutionnaire (AMR) centred around the primacy of self-management.  They embraced the project of a ‘self-managed’ republic, took up themes such as feminism (in the mid-sixties), supported anti-colonial revolutions (without neglecting as their consequences unravelled, the necessary critique of ‘anti-imperialist’ national bourgeoisies), and defended democratic politics against Stalinism and orthodox Trotskyism. Pablo’s writings translated into English include a collection of his articles (Michel Raptis, Socialism, Democracy & Self-Management: Political Essays 1980 and his first-hand studies of workers’ control during the Allende government in Chile (Revolution and Counter Revolution in Chile by Michael Raptis. 1975) – another experience cut short by a bloody military coup.

New Left.

In the 1970s its members joined the Parti Socialiste Unifié, a French New Left party with over 30,000 members,  hundreds of councillors  during the late 60s and early 1970s and 4 MPs in 1967. Later the AMR was involved in other left alliances, all within the  traditions of workers’ self-management and New Left causes, participative democracy feminism, gay rights, green issues.  By the 1980s the TNR,  operated on a collegiate rather than a ‘Leader’ basis (and numbered outstanding figures such as Maurice Najman). It helped keep alive the ideas of workers’ control during the political triumph of neoliberalism. I was close to them in the 1980s (and attended one of their World Congress, the 8th) as a member of the Fédération pour une gauche alternative where we worked with the PSU in its final years.

https://pbs.twimg.com/media/CqjSS9FXEAAJxOm.jpg

Movements, that place ecological issues within the context of popular control, talk of new forms of democracy, owe something to those in the PSU and other New Left groups of the sixties and seventies across Europe. The TMRI was part of these currents, less and less concerned with building a revolutionary ‘party’ than with the interests of the movements themselves. (3) It could be said to have been a practical answer to the critique of Trotskyism offered by Claude Lefort of the group, Socialisme ou Barbarie in the 1950s.  Lefort once asked, why, without the kind of material basis of a Stalinist state or even a trade union administration, did all Trotskyist groups reproduce the bureaucratic forms of these apparatuses?One response is, yes, “liquidationism”, being part of the wider movement and not a self-styled ‘vanguard’.

Pabloism’s  legacy continues. It is one of many influences inside  the French ‘alternatifs’, left social- republicanism, and the (left-wing of) the  Front de Gauche (Ensemble) and more widely in the European and Latin American left.

Although a small number of  ‘Pabloites’ re-joined the ‘Mandelite’ Fourth International (already moving away from Trotskyist  ‘orthodoxy) in the 1990s most evolved away from ‘Trotskyism’ towards broader forms of democratic socialism and New Left radicalism. Some even became part of the French Greens (at the time known as Les Verts), while most, as indicated, merged into the broader left.

As the political landscape has radically changed since the fall of Official Communism and the entrenchment of neo-liberal economists and social policies in most of the world those associated with this current have  been involved in a variety of left parties and campaigns. Pablo’s anti-colonialism hardly meets the challenges we face today. But the democratic strand of workers’ self-management remains perhaps, a strand which retains its relevance in the emerging ideas and policies of the left, including within the Labour Party..

Unlike ‘entryism’ and dogmatic Trotskyism….

 

(1)One of the best accounts of this and Krivine’s background is in Hervé Hamon, Patrick Rotman, Génération, les années de rêve, Paris, Seuil, 1987. For 68 itself: Patrick Rotman et Hervé Hamon, Génération, T.2 Les années de poudre, Paris, Le Seuil, 1988,

(2)The best biographical introduction to Michel Raptis: on the Lubitz Trotskyanet –  here

(3) A  reliable sketch of the French affiliate of the TMRI, the AMR, is  available here: Bref aperçu de l’histoire du courant “pabliste” ses suites et sespériphéries en France 1965-1996.  A journal from this tradition is Utopie Critique.

From KS.

 

Trotsky Today: A Critical Balance Sheet.

with 7 comments

Today, the 20th of August,  is the 76th anniversary of Leon Trotsky’s murder by  Ramón Mercader agent of Stalin and the USSR state.

Trotskyism has been in the news recently.

Amongst the small left-wing groups, who present themselves as Jeremy Corbyn’s new best friends, are some who draw on Trotsky’s ideas. The Socialist Workers Party, in response to claims about Trotskyist politics, has published  Trotsky was right – we need a revolution. In Why is Leon Trotsky relevant today? the SWP’s Sue Caldwell sees merit in his revolutionary spirit. His writings on the united front ,and the need to look out for the “treachery” of the Labour Party and trade unions in the  1926 (….) General Strike remain guides on how to approach the Labour Party and union leaders today.  The SWP also  advances on its own special view (against Trotsky) on the ‘state capitalist’ nature of the former USSR.

The Socialist Party has this, The legacy of Leon Trotsky. This group states, “The ideas and methods of the Socialist Party and the socialist international to which it is affiliated, the Committee for a Workers’ International (CWI), are based on Trotsky’s, alongside those of Karl Marx, Friedrich Engels and Vladimir Lenin.” “What are the lessons for today? There is an urgent need to create a new mass force that can gather together the struggles of the working class both on an industrial plane but also in the political arena itself. This requires the ‘dual task’ that the CWI set itself in the early 1990s of fighting for the rehabilitation of the ideas of socialism for the mass movement and of maintaining the clear programme of Marxism-Trotskyism. ” “Trotsky, having been relegated to the status of a political ‘nonentity’ by his opponents, with Robert Service merely being the latest addition to the ranks, will be resurrected as a major figure, not only among the workers’ movement, but in the struggle of the whole of humankind in the convulsive period opening up.

Socialist Appeal offers its own tribute Leon Trotsky: the man and his ideas, “On this occasion of the anniversary of Trotsky’s assassination, we renew our faith in the world working class and the revolutionaries ideas of Marxism. World revolution is now being put back on the agenda. We are therefore proud to stand on the shoulders of giants.”

As one might guess these approaches are different to that of this Blog.

We re-publish, with minor alterations, a long review article we produced in 2012.

Stalin’s Nemesis. The Exile, and Murder of Leon Trotsky. Bertrand M. Patenaude. Faber & Faber. 2009. Trotsky A Biography. Robert Service. Macmillan. 2009.

“Estimations of Trotsky tend to shade into explanations for his political downfall.” So comments Bertrand Patenaude.

How should the man be considered? Why should we be interested in his defeat?

Rigid, lacking sound political instincts, the overweening “flaw” in his haughty personality, – all judgements of Stalin’s Nemesis – Trotsky offered brilliant justification of the Russian Revolution, and mordant criticisms of Soviet rule under Stalin. To Robert Service Trotsky was “an exceptional human being and a complex one”. He was a major actor in a central drama of the 20th century, whose “ideas, including those about Russian history, had a lasting impact”.

Patenaude’s Stalin’s Nemesis is a solid, if not particularly friendly, account of Trotsky’s life following his expulsion from the Soviet Union. It frequently expands to encompass the longer course of his vocation, from inspiring mass leader to marginalised founder of the Fourth International.

But to get the full flavour of a study that puts the emphasis on how the one-time Commissar’s personality, imprinted with a “definite ideology”, shaped his career, from a leading player in the October capture of power, to exile, and victim of Stalin’s brutal revenge, one needs to read Robert Service’s biography. It has all the faults, and these flow in abundance, of such a method.

Not that would have expected a sympathetic portrait. In Stalin (2004) Service compared Trotsky’s use of violence to Stalin’s and stated that he alone of the leading Bolsheviks approached the Georgian “in bloodthirstiness”. Or indeed a rounded grasp of Communist ideology and history. In his Comrades (2007) Service asserted that by the end of the 19th century Marxism had become “an infallible set of doctrines and political substitute for religion.” And that Lenin and the Bolsheviks’ “new type of state” based on “one-party, one-ideology” with no respect for “law, constitution and popular consent” had spread to “mutate like a virus”, infecting the body of Fascism, Remaining around, apparently, to taint “the Islamist plans of Osama Bin Laden” and the Taliban.

Trotsky, Trotskyism and Communism.

Each book then offers not just narrative but assessments of Trotsky’s contribution (negative and positive) to the history of Communism and the Soviet Union, and Trotskyism’s own destiny. Patenaude’s story is largely centred on Trotsky’s life in Mexico, his homes in Coyoacán, and his wider historical description and judgements about Trotsky tend to flow from this location. This, despite its dismissive conclusion about the “dogma of Marxism” and Trotsky’s faith in the “glorious Soviet future” (did Patenaude mislay his style guide?) is gripping and illuminating.

Aware of his previous writings, one expects less, and gets a lot less, from Service. In an ‘orthodox’ Trotskyist review David North has rigorously unravelled the string of howlers and factual errors that litter the book – apparently from a serious historian – from names, dates of people’s death, (including that of Natalia, Trotsky’s wife) to graver errors (here). The claim that this is the “first full-length biography of Trotsky written by someone outside Russia who is not a Trotskyist” may, nevertheless, be true. It is less than sure that Service’s efforts in this direction, to offer a “more searching approach” than previous biographies, such as Isaac Deutscher’s celebrated Trilogy, or the painstakingly documented publications of Pierre Broué, not to mention his subject’s own “self-serving and misleading” accounts, offer more than acres of darkness about Trotsky.

Mexico, after years of wandering in exile, initially internal, in Kazakhstan, to outside the USSR in Turkey, France, to Norway, was Trotsky’s final home. The axe had fallen. He was now, for the Soviet state, officially a “counter-revolutionary” who had formed an illegal anti-Soviet party. No country appeared comfortable with receiving this dangerous revolutionary.

But, from 1937 up till his murder in 1940, the Russian revolutionary found a guarded welcome from the Mexican President Cárdenas, a supporter of the Spanish republic and protector of countless loyalist refugees. The agrarian reformer had yielded to lobbying from the celebrated muralist, and self-styled Trotskyist, Diego Rivera, and out of a sense that it was the “proper thing to do” had accepted the Russian revolutionary. The artist housed him in Coyoacán, in his casa azul (blue house), “filled with plants and flowers, pre-Columbian sculptures” and “a fruit bearing orange tree” in the patio.

Trotsky Under Siege.

With talent Patenaude describes the enveloping clouds around Trotsky’s stay. Life in the Blue House, where he had an affair with Rivera’s wife, the painter Frida Kahlo (riven in many minds by Julie Taymor’s dashing bio-film), the turbulent personality of her husband, a political-emotional storm, was not without its own drama. Sketches of Trotsky’s intimate relationship with his wife, Natalia, his pastimes, fishing, hunting, cacti collecting, and fraught diners, enliven the human side of – to anyone immersed in the drier side of Trotskyist literature – of the Old Man. There are snapshots of an earlier existence, from his role as the Bolshevik Army leader, the bitter struggles with Stalin following Lenin’s death in 1924, to his eventual hounding out of the Party.

That past was brought back quickly. In the growing Stalinist Terror, Moscow ideologues, and their international counterparts in the Communist parties’ international, the Comintern, attacked Trotsky the ‘counter-revolutionary’. Near-by the Mexican Communist Party launched violent campaigns against his presence. From the start Trotsky and his entourage were under siege. Unfortunately, not only real threats weighed on them.

This had domestic echoes. There were petty rows. “Life in the Trotsky household was marked by frequent periods of tension and petty strife which at times had the effect of undermining Trotsky’s security.” Which, by the time they had moved from the Blue House to the Avenida Viena (a result of the liaison with Frida) had become a full-time task. This was not always well carried out, despite efforts to recruit reliable guards, install alarm systems, and watch towers. Those out to crush him got closer and closer to Trotsky’s immediate circle. They imprisoned and executed members of his family, and assassinated important Trotskyist activists on the streets of Europe.

The campaign spread to whole political movements. In Spain the 1937, a Stalinist-instigated suppression of, at the height of the Civil War, the ‘Trotskyist’ POUM (an independent anti-Stalinist Marxist group that Trotsky’s own dozen strong band of Spanish followers had been told to reject as ‘centrist’) was undertaken on the grounds of their ‘services’ for “European and Asiatic fascism”. Amid the repression their leader, the Catalan Andreu Nin, was abducted from prison, tortured and murdered by a GPU-led squad.

By the start of 1940 the henchmen of the Soviet Union’s GPU were operating with the purpose of eliminating Trotsky in his New World redoubt. The infiltration by Stalinist agents, first Bob Harte, then, the sadly well known, under various names, Mercedor (Ramón, Raymond), Jacques Mornard, who wormed his way into the Coyoacán refuge, by the cruel seduction of the trusted Sylvia Ageloff, is outlined with all its tortuous mendacity, and form a riveting narrative.

Wider politics played the major part of Trotsky’s life in exile. The Marxist revolutionary had not come to Mexico to abandon the fight against Stalinism; he wished to confront it with all possible means. Apart from holding the reins of the nascent Fourth International – in preparation since Hitler’s seizure of power in 1933, and founded officially in 1938 – Trotsky wrote prolifically on international affairs, offering criticisms on a global scale of Communist policies, and continued to narrate the internal disasters of the Soviet Union. In the Bulletin of the Opposition, and countless articles for the international left (and bourgeois) press he showed the truth about the “privileged caste” that made up the ‘Stalinist bureaucracy’, and the ‘gravedigger’ of the Russian Revolution, Stalin. Trotsky tried to organise resistance on a world-scale. Trotsky was still engaged in a biography of Stalin up to Mercador’s lethal assault.

Dewey Commission.

Patenaude describes a central episode in this unequal combat: the Dewy Commission, (1937). This was set up to challenge the Soviet charge that Trotsky was behind untold plots ‘uncovered’ during the Great Terror, and prosecuted during the Moscow trials. The 78-year-old American educationalist and pragmatist philosopher, John Dewy, who headed the public tribunal, declared that the injustice of this ‘legal’ process ranked with the Dreyfus affair and that of Sacco and Vanceti.

This Commission, an Inquiry into such claims, visited his Central American location. It took testimonies from many sources, and was not without its difficult moments for Trotsky. Here his record as a leading Bolshevik came into play. How could the former People’s Commissar (as Service asserts much more frequently) demand the rights of democratic justice when his own actions in power had betrayed them? Stalin’s Nemesis suggests that Trotsky was forced into a corner over his defence of his action in suppressing the 1921 Kronstadt rebellion – his role as “the bloody Field Marshall Trotsky”.

It might have been relevant here to read what Victor Serge had to say on the subject. That if, as Trotsky alleged (high-handedly) the revolt was led by men different to those who once rose in support of the October Revolution, that whether the Party that crushed them was also the same. Or was it not too already suffering from “bureaucratic befoulment”? Did in fact there have to be some kind of re-assessment, as Serge suggested, of the early years of Bolshevik power, beginning with the introduction of the Cheka (forerunner of the GPU and other state security organs) and the suppression of overt opposition to the Party? That, the “central Committee”, by condemning in 1918 the right to apply the death penalty “without hearing the accused who could not defend themselves” an “Inquisitional procedure forgotten by European civilisation.” (1)

If the Moscow trials, the Commission concluded, were a frame-up (a view, to our astonishment today, not shared by many on the left), this leaves unresolved the difficulties, moral and political, these particular issues raise. Patenaude outlines the American educator’s 1938 exchange with Trotsky on ethics. The Dialectical Materialist claimed that the class struggle was the ultimate basis of all morals. That under Lenin the Party had followed the ‘laws’ of social development and revolution in crushing its enemies. That, “the end is justified if it leads to increasing the power of man over nature and to the abolition of power of man over man.” In contrast Stalin used unrestrained terror to serve the authority of bureaucratic rule. Thus, he concluded, ends had a ‘dialectical’ relation to means. Stalin’s goal needed repression, Lenin and Trotsky’s….

Dewey asked in reply if these ‘laws’ had testable proof, and what ‘means’ precisely were ruled out to achieve a world where people were free. One might conclude that how to maintain some kind of human decency regardless of the political circumstances remains unresolved. Dewey to an extent shared with Trotsky the premise that morality was not fixed but (as the American later wrote) based on “growth, improvement and progress”. He foresaw its future in a wider democratic process rather than formal political association – social development towards ending the rule of a minority over others in short. This leaves open what kind of political action gave an opportunity for Stalin to rise to power, and the lack of clarity about Trotsky’s defence of early Bolshevik methods of compulsion. In what sense, viewed today, can we say that they were in line with the promise of future human liberation? This end has yet to come.

Trotsky as a Politician and Revolutionary.

What then of the politician, the Marxist, the revolutionary leader? Patenaude cites Max Eastman’s opinion that Trotsky “lacked the gift for personal friendship”; he had no real friends, but “followers and subalterns”. Whatever the claims in Their Morals and Ours about “ending power over people” his political action was based on instrumental authority. That he saw “individuals as servants to an aim and an idea rather than personalities in their own right.”

Eastman was well-placed to know: he fell out with Trotsky over his casual treatment well before he broke with the left and began a steady drift rightwards. But how far does this get us? Trotsky no doubt considered himself equally as a tool – of History (as Edmund Wilson described his self-image in To The Finland Station). In this fashion he was an actor in pre-written script. British intelligence agent (and financier of anti-Bolshevik forces), Bruce Lockhart, said of Trotsky during the Revolution “he strikes me as a man who would willingly die fighting for Russia provided there was a big enough audience to see him do it.” But from this, to try, as Robert Service does, to align the course of Trotsky’s political career around his personal qualities, from “alienating others” to “will to dominate”, is less than savoury.

Not that we can blithely reduce Service’s arguments, as Tariq Ali so characteristically does, to the thesis that “Trotsky was a cold blooded and ruthless murderer” whose crimes merit exposure (Guardian Review. 31.10.09). Some of the hostile judgements in Trotsky A Biography are far from baseless. In the heat of the Civul War leader of the Red Army used ruthless repressive violence against ‘counter-revolutionaries’ (a very large category), backed forced ‘militarised’ labour, celebrated harsh restrictions on free speech and limited any right to non-party opposition, and vaunted this in Terrorism and Communism (1920). Even Ali, given to hero-worshiping himself, admits the Bolsheviks decided to “hold onto power whatever the cost”. Trotsky never openly regretted his actions, or retracted these views.

But that if there is one thing that marks out Service’s Trotsky it is a relentless wish to bring the role of the individual in History centre stage. Trotsky: A Biography constantly runs the risk of replacing critical historical determinism by a critique of one individual’s personality and his – dependent – choices. In reality Trotsky’s perception of himself as part of a broader movement of events was not wholly misjudged. His fate was laid out as much by history as by the workings of his character. His “greater propensity for commands than for discussion”, his “extremely violent” practice, (for the sake of argument, conceded without countervailing traits) only flourished in conditions where people and institutions obeyed. Where in fact violence had become entrenched – by causes far beyond the Will of a “high order” Intellect. Whose origins are beyond the character defects of one revolutionary leader.

Trotsky: A Biography is, then, dominated by the working out of an inner destiny. Yet, in Stalin Service had noted, “Neither Lenin nor Stalin was a wholly free agent. They were constrained by the nature of the regime which they had created.” This is even truer of Trotsky. His inability to sustain his position owed less to a general lack of political abilities than to an absence of the very specific skills – mixing loud loyalty with low cunning, a capacity to reassure the apparatus and build a coterie around him – that were needed to win power in the emerging bureaucratic state.

It is obvious that organising a kaleidoscope of alliances, from the left to the United Opposition, on a platform of challenging the growth and power of this army of functionaries, was not going to make much head-way inside the very Party that swelled in symbiosis with the bureaucracy. Trotsky disdained to make appeals outside this circle. Then, the real issues are deeper. Why did he help build the administration only to attempt its transformation? Did he, even given his handicaps as a politician, offer anything other than a variant on the “model” of the one-party one-ideology state? Was Trotsky, for all his later criticisms of the Stalinist system, too wrapped in a set of near-identical assumptions about Capitalism and building Socialism, to offer a realistic different form of Communism? In sum, did he leave behind anything of value to the present world?

Trotsky and the Soviet Regime.

Service is in little doubt about the central responsibility Trotsky had in forming the Soviet regime, and his reasons for doing so. To begin with, Trotsky’s life was marked out by a dictatorial personality-become-dictatorial politics. Living life on his own terms, the young Trotsky became father to the man; “intensely self-righteous” his ideology propelled him into enforcing a closed political system, his version of Marxism as a guide to creating a Communist society. The means? He rejected individual terrorism, only to support “mass terror realised by the revolutionary class” – which brooked no opposition to the “proletarian dictatorship” that would construct socialism.

In this respect, “the Bolshevik regime was flawed from its inception”. Trotsky may have begun as a supporter of workers’ liberation but “As soon as he had power, he eagerly suppressed popular aspirations by violence.” Next, Trotsky’s own inability to offer a convincing alternative, in democratic and economic terms, to Stalin’s version of a totalitarian state, was thorough-going. He was unable to think outside of the Party, “the Party in the final analysis is always right because the party is the sole historical instrument given to the proletariat for the solution of its fundamental tasks”. Such fundamental ‘partyism’ Service calls “the frame of communist authoritarianism”.

Trotsky had differences over policies with Stalin (and he claimed that some of them, promoting socialisation and land collectivisation, were adopted, albeit in a ‘deformed’ way during the period of the first Five Year Plans). Nevertheless, Trotsky’s strategy, for a whole decade, was to capture that party. When this failed (signalled by the German Communists’ crumbling in the face of Hitler) he wanted to build a new one. But its ‘workers’ democracy’ closely resembled the Bolsheviks’ own proto-totalitarian machine – the forging of that “sole historical instrument for the proletariat.”

The failure of Trotsky’s prophetic Marxism was complete. Instead of an inevitable revolt to restore workers’ power. When there was (in the Transitional Programme’s words) the “downfall of the Bonapartist clique and the Thermidorian bureaucracy” there was no socialist take-over to take over the bureaucracy and create a new ‘superstructure’ over the ‘socialist’ foundations of the economy. Capitalism was restarted in the Soviet Union, and its satellites. Collective property ended up in the hands of a new state protected bourgeoisie.

Much of the argument of Stalin’s Nemesis resembles the Bellman’s in The Hunting of the Snark (“What I tell you three times is true”). Trotsky was bad, bad and bad. But what remains? For all this constant battering on one-theme Service still raises important problems (from the nature of political Marxism to the development of capitalism). We have then, Trotsky, the thoroughly cold, brilliant, World Actor, which first brought him to prominence, but whose inability to relate to others, and to act as an ordinary politician (making allies, cutting deals) then isolated him, while his know-all imperiousness and indifference to others, helped doom what little chance he had of forming a new International during his exile. Thus, Trotsky “did not suffer fools gladly: indeed he did not suffer them at all.”

One supposes that this is not an attribute that recommends itself to anyone on a dispassionate jury selecting Commissars with the power of life and death over others. Though it seems a good qualification for many positions, from entrepreneurs, CEOs, political spin-doctors and indeed British government figures, all with at least (in theory) more constraints than Trotsky had around him during his years in power. Is this in any case a fair character assessment, if not exactly psychometrics? Service is not alone is describing a Trotsky that always saw the wood, the human mass, and never the individual human tree. That, Trotsky was barely a Politician at all, and never even began to present a challenge to Stalin, during his Soviet years. Or that afterwards in the vainglorious attempt to form a Fourth International as an alternative to Stalinist Communism and the reformist (and ‘centrist’ left-wing) socialist and social democratic parties, Trotsky overreached himself. He was left with, when all seemed lost, as Patenaude states, only faith in a better future.

Terror, Communism and Democratic Marxist Criticism.

But this leads us further. To the ‘dictatorial-political’ strain in Trotsky’s ideology and person. To this, Trotsky’s ingrained support for repression. Service justly brings forward Terrorism and Communism (1920) which we have already referred to above. This is a key text (my edition is published tellingly by Gerry Healy’s Workers’ Revolutionary Party). Trotsky polemicises against the German Second International Marxist Kautsky, who defended a conventional form of democratic socialist government based on free elections and civil liberties. In high Jacobin mode Trotsky argued that not only the needs of the hour called for the severest form of revolutionary dictatorship, but that ruthless repression of political enemies, and compulsion in all spheres of life, from labour armies, to swift punishment for any disobedience to Soviet Rule, were inevitable features of any transition to a socialist society. Service intercalates the reality behind such sentences.

The Bolsheviks had indeed “Shot innocent hostages. They had stripped large social groups of their civil rights. They had glorified terrorist ideas and gloried in their application” That this is, if anything, an underestimation of Trotsky’s totalitarianism, can be seen from these oft-quoted words, “..The road to socialism lies through a period of the highest possible intensification of the principle of the state. Just as a lamp, before going out, shoots up a brilliant flame, so the state, before disappearing, assumes the form of the dictatorship of the proletariat. i.e., the most ruthless form of the state, which embraces the life of the citizens authoritatively in every direction.” (Terrorism and Communism. 1975 Edition.) Nobody who supported these ideas, or even briefly entertained them, can stand today with much credit, even if his target, Kautsky’s conventional defence of progress through reform, made little difference to the ruin and chaos of Europe in this period.

But how did Trotsky come to this view? This is not clearly explained. There is no serious reference to previous writings supporting such a comprehensive use of force over politics, and the prime motor of the economy, even if one can detect traces of it in earlier braggadocio and toying with the imagery of the French Revolution.

For most of its existence, the ‘dictatorship of the proletariat’ was, for Marxists, in so far as Marx himself used it sparingly, hardly at all. It referred to a period when the working class imposes its rule as a class, not a party, and there is no doubt room for great ambiguity in the term. Hal Draper has argued that the phrase was taken over to gain, and transform, a large part of the contemporary radical left, that is those influenced and organised in the Blanquist tradition. This modelled itself on France in 1789 and truly wished for a sharp short period of outright forceful rule by a revolutionary minority to set the people free. By contrast Marx, he states, emphasised another side of ‘dictatorship in this sense (that is, in the 19th century where the phrase was coined)”. For him it signified an emergency period of ‘rule’, turned into administration by the working class majority – that is, democracy, hence “nothing more and nothing less than ‘rule of the proletariat – the “conquest of political power, by the working class, the establishment of a workers’ state in the immediate post revolutionary period.” (The Dictatorship of the Proletariat from Marx to Lenin. 1987).

Draper argued that the problem with Lenin, and equally with Trotsky, was that they were unable to see the workers’ state in these democratic terms. That Trotsky in the above work went “farthest in advocating the workers’ democracy in state affairs”. As a result throughout Trotsky’s life, Draper observes, there was confusion, a separating between ”the concept ‘workers’ state (‘dictatorship of the proletariat’) from the question of working-class control from below (‘rule’).” (Hal Draper. Op cit.) Which leaves open the nature of what Draper calls the influence of the “environment”, the political atmosphere, that allowed/encouraged Trotsky to deform Marx. This fierce rhetoric, if it did not come from a close understanding of Marx, could not just be the product of the Russian left’s internal development.

It is history, not Marxist classics, that supplies some of the answer. In the early Soviet Union Lenin’s initial programme of placing the workers in charge of all levels of the state – a plan to ensure its eventual ‘withering away’ as its functions were devolved to society – were overwhelmed by the needs of the Civil War. If, that is, it was ever seriously contemplated not much of it remained – from Taylorist One-Man Management in the factories, to state rule by decree. Soviet power, that is, the Bolsheviks; hold on the administration, had, Trotskyists still argue, to be defended at all costs.

The Generals of the White Armies were open about their desire to crush their Bolshevik enemies. They smashed anything that stood in their way, they would have re-imposed autocratic rule over the corpses of the workers, the Jews, and the left. That in these conditions, “The question as to who will rule the country, i.e. the life or death of the bourgeoisie, will be decided on either side, not by references to the paragraphs of the constitution, but by the employment of all forms of violence.” (Terrorism and Communism) Can this be faulted? Some may say that a fight for life and death would be better pursued with a democratically mobilised country behind a left government and the Soviets. But then hindsight is not much of a guide to historical explanation.

The issue here, though, is not only that Trotsky (according to his democratic critics) was wrong, preparing the way for a lamp that burnt right through the Russian people’s lives, but that the “bloody Field Marshall” was also a personality which was moulded by long wars that had drenched the land in blood. That a soil which threw up so many similar types needs as much explaining as the individual, the theory, and the state machine that gave it free reign. That regardless of the contribution of the latter (which we will return to), the fields of slaughter in Europe and Russia were created not by Communist theory, or the Soviets, but by imperial clashes. That Trotsky’s militarism was largely their product not Marx’s, or even one strand within Russian Social Democracy (Trotsky’s own position in-between Bolsheviks and Mensheviks for much of his career would seem to make his views the result of many different influences) and that it is the height of a biographer’s vanity to imagine that he can judge the Man without looking deeply into the conditions in which he throve.

Brutality in the Civil War. 

How is this? Service refers to Trotsky’s early championing of the terrifyingly brutal short stories of Isaac Babel. Trotsky showed his “eye for excellence” by picking them out. Lionel Trilling described The Red Cavalry based on the author’s experience of fighting with Cossack irregular troops in Poland, as about “violence of the most extreme kind”, “written in a kind of lyric joy” (Penguin 2007). In this it mirrors a substantial part of early 20th century writing, early futurism, and given depth and realism in post Great War literature, such as in the novels of the ultra-nationalist Freikörps supporter, Ernst Jünger, which was infected with descriptions of this “rush” of violence. In Britain we remember better anti-war memories, poetry and works such as Remarque’s All Quiet on the Western Front. But amongst accounts of the horrors of armed conflict, of the steady attrition of life, and daily deprivations of the trenches, and, naturally, of the Russian Civil War, we can see that not just characters in novels revelled in brutality, an ultra-modernist longing for a new world cleansed by violence, or a reactionary need to water the native earth with the blood of foreigners. A brutal cast of mind was widely spread in real life.

If Trotsky had his share of this, then it should be recognised that it was less his inner character that drove him than the forces of History he, after all, felt obliged to follow. Service’s near ancient Greek drama, in which the path traced out by one’s inherent personal qualities is given, shows its limits here. The breakdown of ‘civilisation’ and its barbaric replacement profoundly shaped the politics and public personalities of the inter-war period. The resulting culture of ‘hardness’ contributed, as is more than well-known, to the ultimate cult of violence, the demarcation of Friend and Enemy on racial grounds in the Nazi State.

Stalin had his own violent background, as a near-gangster, described in Montefoire’s Young Stalin (2007). This ingrained his predisposition to revenge any slight, and gave a taste for the liquidation of enemies. Trotsky, by contrast, had had time, when that régime’s nature became apparent, to show at least some self-reflection on the error of letting violence prevail over politics – a great deal of time during his Mexican exile. Is this the result? The Fourth International’s (FI) Transitional Programme (1938) calls for a state run by the people through Soviets in which “all political currents of the proletariat can struggle for leadership of the soviets on the basis of the widest democracy.” Without defining what are the workers’ political currents, and what are not, this is not enough of a self-criticism. But a far cry from hurling anathemas at all but One current. And, if he did not recognise this change, Trotsky never got the hang of recognising that kind of turn.

The Fourth International.

Another layer of Trotsky: A Biography lies in the lengthy history of the FI’s founder’s political struggle and his policies. It would be wearying to delve too deeply here. There is much material that may be found wanting. Trotskyists (such as Pierre Broué) have claimed that the Trotsky and the opposition did offer an alternative political structure (workers’ democracy inside the Party), and a programme for administrative reform toward a democratic socialist economy. The crucial issue though is organisational. Trotsky soon retreated from War Communism. Rule by force, and the militarisation of labour was never extended to his planned subordination of Trade Unions to production. Lenin’s death left him the lurch.

By 1923 he began to regroup and react to the growing power of Stalin and the emerging bureaucratic monolith. In that year’s The New Course he began to identify a new bureaucratic stratum – a distinction with Lenin’s conception of the lingering influence of Imperial office practice. Against this Trotsky agitated for the right of the party masses to engage in ideological debate. This was largely justified on the grounds that the direct expression of differing opinions – from the base – would help root out bureaucracy. With echoes of his much earlier critique of Leninism Trotsky asked, “If factions are not wanted, there must not be any permanent groupings; if permanent groupings are not wanted, temporary grouping must be avoided; finally, in order that there be no temporary groupings, there must be no differences of opinion, for wherever there are two opinion, people inevitably group together.” This was published; the gates barring all criticism had not closed yet. But it met strong resistance.

Against this line of reasoning Stalin was able to make capital out of Trotsky’s acquiescence in the 10th Bolshevik Party (R.C.P (B) Conference’s secret decision to suppress all factionalising (1921). From there Stalin called Trotsky’s calls for vibrant inner-party discussion during the 13th Conference (1924) “unrestrained agitation for democracy” an “absolute and a fetish” which “is unleashing petty-bourgeois elemental forces.” It was in vain that Trotsky protested that he was opposed to factions, that he believed that (as previously cited) “in the last analysis the Party is always right.” Stalin was in a position to go full throttle. Leninism, he asserted, was built as a “monolithic organisation, hewed from a single block, possessing a single will and in its work uniting all shades of thought into a single current of practical activities.” As Stalin gradually consolidated his power this version of Democratic Centralism won out, and the unitary Will found no place for Trotsky’s opinions.

Without exaggerating Trotsky’s chances – trapped, as he was, in a political web partly of his own making, which paralysed his freedom of action – this issue, of democracy, is the crucial one. Hal Draper grasped the nettle. Either Trotsky recognised freedom for factionalism inside a Communist organisation – which he was never to do – or he too would end up confronting the need to suppress “differences of opinion”. Nor can differences be confined inside a single party. Political history is the history of factionalising, from groupings, tendencies, cliques, fractions, factions, to sects. The Greek word, ‘stasis’, that is the attempt to upset the existing order, the urge to overthrow the powers that be, ‘sedition’, is the spring behind their existence. It is a universal political phenomenon (insofar as politics – disputing and agreeing – are human qualities), as much as production itself. Before the Russian Revolution Georges Sorel, who preferred anti-party syndicalism, was fond of referring to socialist parties that tended to smoother differences in bureaucratic oligarchies and engage in parliamentary office-seeking and jobbery.

Ban on inner-party democracy. 

To some the turn of Bolshevism-in-power into Stalinism indicates an even worse fate. One major factor in party bureaucratisation (apart from the wider social hierarchy they often mirror) is a ban on factionalism – or (as in the more modern period) a gutting out of inner-party democracy to prevent differing currents’ voices having any effect on their policy. The Bolsheviks were long accused of tendencies in this direction (not least by Trotsky himself). This was false, though one should not idealise the freedom to criticise that existed in an atmosphere of heated clashes and the threat of expulsions inside Lenin’s party. Stalin, as we have seen, raised such a move to a point of principle. Trotsky attempted to halt the dynamic. That he did so only is a very half-heartened way, and completely endorsed the Communist monopoly of power, is clear. But from there to allege that Trotsky’s initial attempts to at least raise some degree of opposition to bureaucratic rule, at a terrible cost to his own political career, that he, in Service’s opinion had “laid several foundation stones for the erection of Stalin’s political, social and even cultural edifice” is presumptuous. It should not be forgotten that by 1923 he was doing his utmost to assemble the blocks in a very different way.

Trotsky, therefore, remains ambiguous. His later writings, displayed in the limpid prose of The History of the Russian Revolution (1932 – 3) the brilliant analysis of the degeneration of the Soviet Union in The Revolution Betrayed (1937), which analysed Soviet bureaucracy in terms of administering shortages, should not dazzle us into ignoring that they were flawed. Claims that the revolution had left a fundamentally healthy socialist form of property – hence economy, were deeply problematic. Service is right to note Trotsky’s inability to see any plausible way that the October Revolution could be ‘righted’ to correspond to this enduring ground.

Perhaps more significantly this perspective skewed his judgement, anxious for the socialist productive forces to expand, Trotsky considered their growth over-rode many other considerations. His enthusiasm for the Soviet Union, largely founded on this perspective, in the years before his assassination, right up to the invasion of Finland, and the Partition of Poland, shows serious errors of judgement. Perry Anderson has claimed that far from ‘de-generating’ the dynamic of Stalinism reached out further and produced a “generation” of new Stalinist states, not only through force of Russian arms, but in Asia, by indigenous revolutionary combat (Trotsky’s Interpretation of Stalin. 1978). That this, against Anderson, was not a sign of a “transition beyond capitalism” can be seen in the present-day Chinese regime.

Trotsky, Strategy and Marxist Theory.

Was Trotsky a major Marxist theorist? He wrote and spoke in sweeping generalisations, with illustrations, rather than conceptual analysis and thoroughly researched references, peppering his paragraphs. In contrast to Lenin, his views were not presented through dense texts designed for an activist to chew over but by lyrical prose that aims to seduce a general audience. The histories move us, and the fate of the Russian Revolution is explained in a way that leaves its imprint, without necessarily satisfying our curiosity about those he disagreed with (all are given fairly short shrift), or taxing our minds too much. Amongst his theories the ‘law of combined development’ (called in Trotskyist circles “the Law of Combined and Uneven Development’), summarises some perhaps useful ideas. It is far from law-like – claims about the different rates of development across the world, and the potential for ‘leaps’ from forms of manufacturing to modern industrialisation, from autocratic regimes to democracies are heaped together with (Trotsky’s version of) socialism. This discovery’s presence is sometimes still glimpsed in academic leftist discourse about international development – uneven apparently, but ‘combined’ with global trends.

One has the impression that Trotsky wrote rather like some supercilious British leftist orator who imagines he has cleverly shown his enemies up as fools and knaves and expects the audience to nod in agreement. Is a fluent and appealing rendering of a speaking style everything? Lenin’s own production sharpens one’s critical senses despite often-wooden phraseology (one imagines the original Russian is not much different in that respect). But they compel because the founder of the Soviet State’s core works are very concrete analysis of specific political conjunctures – leading up to the 1918 Revolution, and the problems it faced afterwards. All that he produced was grounded on weighty studies about the development of capitalism in Russia, its politics and flashes of insight into the operations of the world system – imperialism. One who is opposed to the Bolsheviks’ Dictatorship of the Proletariat through a democratic centralist party, and any aspect of their policies, is always aware of these, rather than anyone else’s, (that is, Trotsky onwards) premises.

When Lenin discussed philosophy in Materialism and Empirico-Criticism he went to the sources, even if he dosed his writing with heavy-handed polemic. This was no exception, when Lenin polemicised he read and grappled with his opponents’ arguments. His notes on Hegel demonstrate a remarkable effort under the hardest circumstances to think something new. Trotsky was different. Marxism was largely a settled matter for him. He replied to American critics of Dialectics by regurgitating the homilies of early Dia-Mat and showed few signs of grasping what the contrary opinion was about. As for conjunctural writings, Trotsky on Germany (the rise of Hitler) and France (during the Popular Front) never capture Lenin’s zest for detail. Their telegraphed message, that the workers’ parties should unite – against the emerging Nazi threat – or to break from the mildly reformist and strongly respectable Parti Radical can be seen now, as rather thin. The latter – while in accord with rising French workers’ occupations, failed to anticipate that the fall of the Popular Front government (which relied on their co-operation) would not result in the rise of a powerful left party eager for Trotsky’s advice on how to form Committees of Action that would reflect the will of the “struggling masses”. Naturally the Popular Front collapsed – Trotsky was not there to help the left.

If these are well-known cases of Trotsky’s apparent foresight, even more contentious were efforts to roll out comment on a wider range of world political issues, from Britain to China. They stretch even the admirers’ capacity to defer to Trotsky’s authority. Trotsky’s role as Global sage became a major cause (or perhaps, symptom) of his failure to win converts from existing left-wing groups to the banner of the Fourth International. So, opining on Spain (not a country he was in any way really familiar with), Trotsky attacked one of the few independent European Marxist groups with any social weight, the POUM.

His writings, which criticised the party for its willingness to engage in support for the Republican government, are a disgraceful farrago of wishful thinking and spite. It is not to their honour that Trotskyists today continue to try to snaffle some glory for having ‘defended’ the POUM, or lay claim to its desperate struggle – as Ken Loach attempted in the film, Land and Freedom. (2) As for the predictions, sometimes Trotsky was acute (in foreseeing, like many others) a war between the USSR and Nazi Germany, other times, embarrassing, like his feeling that that the second World War would result in genuine Continent-wide workers’ revolutions. Régis Debray once described Trotsky as an expert on everything under the sun, and a few things more besides. This is fair comment.

It is sometimes said that Trotsky tried to ride the waves of history, buoyed up in an epoch of revolutions that had their own inner currents. Trotsky’s constant refrain that capitalism was in decline, that the world would soon see another crisis that would give birth to a new wave of radical Marxist-led revolutions, and that the miniscule Fourth International (the embodiment of historical truth) would play a major role in these uprisings, tend to confirm this. They are both quaint (his longing for the Sublime when we would all be geniuses) and misleadingly vague (the end of ‘power’). Yet there continues to be grandeur in his stand. If we can be harsh with our criticisms of him it is not to diminish the immense courage that he showed in raising the banner of opposition to Stalin. His ideas were not, by a long shot, completely misguided. He did fight, tooth and nail, against the burgeoning bureaucratic state – if on a basis which has its flaws, (but then what would not have been faultless given its origins inside the Communist Party?). He was hated enough by Stalin to be murdered. Patenaude notes that in 1961 Brezhnev gave his killer (released from gaol in 1960) the Order of Lenin and the Gold Star medal for, “heroism and bravery’ and ‘carrying out a special task’.

The Legacy.

What of Trotsky’s legacy? Patenaude never musters the effort needed to go far into this question, contenting himself with the solemn comment that the Marxist revolutionary died a “prisoner of the myth of October as a workers’ revolution.” Service at least tries to draw some balance-sheet. It does not ignore the most significant aspect – the destiny of his political following, as well as his place in the public imagination of the wider left. As he put it in Comrades, Trotsky was, around 1968, hauled onto the “pedestal of esteem” by students and young people. This has, he claims, faded. In Stalin’s Nemesis, he observes that Trotskyists have never been “much larger than groupuscles”, who “never came close to taking power anywhere”. That Trotsky was to become little more than a “comfort blanket for revolutionaries who did not mind that they were not making a revolution” These remarks may please those who think the Russian Revolution’s myth is all that Trotsky’s politics represented, both as a legend himself, and the bearer of its mythology, he would seem for Patenaude and Service to have been tried, and, for all his better qualities, found severely wanting. It would be fruitless to protest that the real problems with Trotsky are only to do with his own activities. Apart from the assessment of his life and fatal decease, we should perhaps pay more than passing attention to what they indicate to present-day left political life.

What then of the Trotskyist movement? It is far more influential than Service credits – its impact continues throughout the left, notably in France, but also in Britain where Trotskyists had a hey-day in the 1970s Labour Party. More recently those with a Trotskyist background were elected to the Scottish Parliament (before descending into fractious dispute). Trotskyism has offered a political induction for countless individuals, including the former Prime Minister of France, Lionel Jospin, prominent Labour MPs, and even Ministers. In many countries Trotskyists are a significant presence in trade unions. Trotskyist groups have provided and still offer a range of different ideas on politics, a full galaxy of opinions on nearly every weighty issue.

What then of their faults? Many of these can be traced back to Trotsky. Trotsky’s effort to build a new International involved him in constant attacks on all other independent anti-Stalinist groups – without exception. He could not have equal allies – the American SWP was tolerated for its ready obedience. When that dried up within sections of the New York party, his wrath was immense, showering his critics with abuse. The ability to tolerate contradiction was not the Dialectician’s forte. Like Trotsky many have not yet, despite the recognition of multi-party democracy by the Fourth International in 1977 entirely agreed on the nature of democracy’s importance to socialism. This position is not universally accepted. Some from the Trotskyist tradition remain wedded to Trotsky’s hostility to factionalism, as the long list of expulsion and splits from the British Socialist Workers Party indicate all too clearly. Others are even more backward looking, basing themselves entirely on Trotsky’s words. But his or her judgements alone are unlikely to convince anyone who does not share this belief in a grace radiating from his life.

Their time has passed, and we do not have to turn our backs every time we act to look at the works and deeds of Trotsky, Lenin or Stalin, to decide what we should do today. When we do – at some point we on the left have to have some guidance in the history that has shaped us – we will find matters of interest and reflection in writings such as Patenaude’s toil in the archives – but precious little Enlightenment in any of Service’s words.

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(1)  Victor Serge. Once More Kronstadt. 1938. In a full dossier of the affair, headed by Trotsky’s explanation. The Konstadt Rebellion in the Soviet Union 1921. Education for Socialists. 1973. The context was post-civil war worker unrest, notably in adjoining Petrograd (Petersburg), and demands for a lifting of the repression of civil rights. Trotsky claimed that the sailors demanded, “privileges”, that were out for privileged food rations, that the insurrection’s victory would “bring nothing but a victory of the counter-revolution” and that their ideas were “deeply reactionary”. They “reflected the hostility of the backward peasantry to the worker, the conceit of the soldier of sailor in relation to the ‘civilian’ Petersburg, the hatred of the petty bourgeois for revolutionary discipline.”

Later Alfred Rosmer, the French syndicalist, Communist and then left oppositionist, who was deeply involved with the early Soviet republic, offered a variant of this scarecrow of an argument. He cast aspersions on the political forces that flocked around the mutineers. Whatever the ‘tragic’ nature of the crushing of Kronstadt, the Communists afterwards took measures to assuage the causes of the defiance (better food requisition, dampening down peasant dissatisfaction, better bread rations and elements of small scale enterprise in urban areas). In any case, the uprising itself had rallied all the enemies of Bolshevism, “Que des éléments contre-révolutionnaires aient cherché à profiter de la situation, c’était normal; leur role était d’exciter les mécontentements, d’envenimer les griefs, de tirer vers eux le mouvement. D’où sortit le mot d’ordre des “ soviets sans bolchéviks ” ? il n’est pas aisé de le préciser, mais il était si commode pour rallier tout le monde, tous les adversaires du régime, en particulier les socialistes-révolutionnaires, les cadets, les menchéviks, empressés à prendre une revanche, qu’il est permis de supposer que ce sont eux qui en eurent l’idée, et la propagande qu’ils firent sur cette revendication pouvait toucher les marins et les soldats, la plupart jeunes recrues venant des campagnes, troublés déjà par les plaintes acrimonieuses que leur apportaient les lettres de leurs familles, irritées par la brutale réquisition.” Moscow sous Lénine. 1953.

John Rees reiterates this, in a much more unsavory way, including repeating Trotsky’s charges that the mutiny was led by people who “not really” proletarians in In Defence of October International Socialism, 52. 1991. This reminds one of Stalinist claims about the workers’ uprising in Berlin 1953 that they were ‘not really’ workers but US agents in disguise. The historical debate continues. But the main point is that the Bolsheviks were unwilling to allow any of these forces, from the left to the centre any political expression whatsoever. So “’c’était normal” that they flocked to support the Kronstadt revolt. As for the rebels themselves, most accounts state that their demands were for freedom of workers’ parties (Pages 113 – 114. Ian D.Thatcher. Trotsky. 2003). Even if the slogan about soviets without Bolsheviks were true, what was so wrong with wanting to get rid of one party from elected bodies – democracies do it all the time? The question was how could this be achieved democratically – a mechanism Lenin and Trotsky’s dictatorship of the proletariat excluded at all costs.

(2) Marceau Pivert. L’affaire du .L’affaire du P.O.U.M. (1938) SIA (organe hebdomadaire de Solidarité Internationale Antifasciste1

Written by Andrew Coates

August 20, 2016 at 12:04 pm