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Momentum, UNITE and Labour: an Activist Comments.

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A ‘New Kind of Politics’? 

Unite statement on Tom Watson MP’s claims on Momentum and Unite

20 March 2017

Responding to the claims made today (Monday 20 March) in the national media by Tom Watson MP, deputy leader of the Labour party, Unite’s acting general secretary Gail Cartmail said: “Tom Watson has made claims about Unite and its general secretary Len McCluskey which are entirely inaccurate.

“As Unite has made it clear it is exclusively for our executive council to determine which organisations we affiliate to. There are no plans for Unite to affiliate to Momentum. For the record, Len McCluskey has never met Jon Lansman to discuss this or any other matter.

“It is extraordinary that the deputy leader of the Labour party should  interfere in Unite’s democracy in this way, and it is very disappointing that he was allowed to make his unsupported claims without being challenged, and that the BBC ignored the Unite statement with which it had been provided well in advance.

“Mr Watson’s latest, and misguided, campaign is part of an unprecedented pattern of interference in the current Unite general secretary election by elected Labour politicians who should, frankly, be concentrating on their own responsibilities.

“Mr Watson is a Unite member with a right to a vote and a view. But he should remember that, first, he is deputy leader of the Labour party with the obligations that this senior post imposes, and second that Unite is not a subsidiary of any political organisation.”

Unite has complained to the BBC Radio 4 Today programme that the statement the union provided in good faith last night was only used in part and following representations from the union this morning. The union has also complained that Mr Watson was allowed to make his extraordinary claims about Unite and its general secretary without being subject to any demand for evidence.

This is in response to reports, such as this one, in the media. (Guardian).

Momentum’s Jon Lansman has hit back after fierce criticism by Labour MPs of his intention to affiliate trade union Unite to his grassroots group as a way to consolidate its power in the party.

The plans for Momentum to affiliate the UK’s biggest union and take full control of Labour’s structures by electing new representatives were described as “entryism” by the party’s deputy leader, Tom Watson, and were revealed after Lansman was secretly recorded speaking at a Momentum branch meeting in Richmond, south-west London.

In the recording, the chair of Momentum said the affiliation would require Unite’s general secretary, Len McCluskey, to win his re-election battle against rival Gerard Coyne

….

A new constitution drawn up by Lansman last year made it clear that activists must be members of the Labour party in order to participate in Momentum, but in the recording, he suggested the restriction would not be enforced.

“It was important to require Labour party membership in the rules but it is down to enforcement. No one from the centre is going to tell you to kick people out,” he tells the meeting.

Watson tweeted Lansman on Sunday night, saying the recording was “very clear” in what it meant. “You’ve revealed your plan. If you succeed, you will destroy the Labour party as an electoral force. So you have to be stopped.”

Lansman replied: “We won’t allow non Lab members to hold office or vote (unlike Coop party or Fabians) but we won’t exclude them from activities/meetings. For 20 years the left was denied a voice. We will deny a voice to no one. We face big challenges, & we need our mass membership to win again.”

Poor old Suzanne Moore, no doubt wishing she were back in happier days ‘punting’ in the river Orwell,  has wadded in, waving her pole in all directions.

A secret recording reveals that even Momentum has given up on Corbyn. Does anyone inside Labour have any idea how ludicrous this all looks?

The insanity of a leader unsupported by his MPs, falling desperately in the polls, inert over Brexit, has the party simply waiting to lose for the reckoning to begin.

The issues raised have now come to the ears of Ken Livingstone (Guardian)

Ken Livingstone tells Labour: don’t lose Momentum party plans

Ex-London mayor says he finds it ‘bizarre’ MPs have issue over changes that would allow leftwing candidate to stand as leader

Ken Livingstone, the former Labour mayor of London, has said the grassroots group Momentum should be free to push for changes to Labour party structures that would secure Jeremy Corbyn’s legacy as a leftwing Labour leader.

The party’s deputy leader, Tom Watson, had accused the radical left group of “entryism” after its chair, Jon Lansman, was secretly recorded at a local meeting describing plans to elect a raft of leftwing candidates to key positions and his hope to seal an affiliation from trade union Unite.

A day of public accusation and backroom briefing by Watson and Corbyn allies ended in a fiery private meeting of MPs and peers on Monday night in parliament, where MPs clashed with Corbyn over Momentum’s influence on the party.

The tension hinges on a clause that Corbyn allies hope to secure at the next Labour party conference, to reduce the threshold of MP nominations needed for the next Labour leadership elections from 15% of MPs to 5%, which would make it easier for a leftwing successor to Corbyn to make it on to the ballot paper sent to members.

Comment.

Ken Livingstone’s comments are well aimed: the rule change under fire is a reasonable one.

UNITE is right complain about Tom Watson’s comments.

It is both hard to believe that he is unaware of the way they would be used in the union’s internal elections, and that he does not know that UNITE’s Executive is the body to which such a decision – which the union itself says is not on the cards – has to be referred.

But the “aspirational” claims by Jon Lansman, that UNITE should affiliate to Momentum, remain contentious.

It can hardly escape anybody interested – perhaps a declining number – in Momentum that the organisation has serious internal disputes, which led to the holding of the recent  ‘Grassroots Momentum’ Conference.

It would be too simple to describe this as a clash between leftist ‘factions’ and those around Jon Lansman. One day somebody may provide a diagram of the disagreements, in 7 dimensions.

This, apparently, escapes the attention of an enthusiast, Comrade Ladin who writes of its success within Labour, “Momentum’s strategy of mobilising members within these structures is undoubtedly the winning one” (Guardian. 20.3.16.7)

Others may point to internal critics’ comments which blow away the idea that this is a head-on battle between the Labour Right (Watson at the head) and Momentum.

As Stephen Wood in The Clarion remarks of the presentation of Momentum as a

….broadly consensual organisation where we “focus on what we agree about.”

The fundamental flaw is that while he is right that most of what was passed at the Grassroots Momentum conference and in fact even argued by his opponents on the Momentum Steering Committee he may actually have agreed to, he was absolutely against and stopped action being taken. Half-hearted support for the Picturehouse Workers Strike, a statement about suspensions and expulsions which has still never materialised were all agreed at what he described as “deeply unpleasant” SC meetings.

It would be easy to continue in this vein, and discuss the internal divisions of Momentum.

One thing is certain (at the risk of sounding the voice of ‘reasonableness’, but this is very much the case)  that  this is not a matter of  virtue , the leadership, and faults, “trots and the hard-left”.

Problems are not confined to one ‘camp’ or the other.

It is also the case that UNITE members who are active in the Labour Party, including those with positions of responsibility, are far from agreed on the merits of Momentum, whether on its general strategy, or the details of its demands.

UNITE is a “political union” that sees the best way of pursuing the interests of its membership lie in the Labour Party, above all a Labour Party in office.

Now would seem not a good time to divert attention away to other power struggles.

 

Written by Andrew Coates

March 21, 2017 at 1:58 pm

Left Socialist Revolutionaries Win Backing in Leftist Poll on 1917.

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1917PartiyaSoz-Rev.jpg

Socialist Revolutionary Party.

There is a popular  quiz, circulated at the moment on Facebook,  on “Who are you in 1917 Russia? Take our test, “Political Compass of the Revolution,” to find out who you would have been 100 years ago – an Anarchist, a Cadet, a Right SR, a Bolshevik or a member of the Black Hundreds.”

No doubt important international leaders of the proletariat, like Tariq Ali, Alex Callinicos, Lindsey Germain and John Rees, would have found that would have been key advisers of the Bolsheviks, commanders of the Red Army and People’s Commissars.

But many people, and not the least, have found that they would have been Left Socialist Revolutionaries.

This is odd, I’d have expected to turn out a Internationalist  Menshevik.

Or this:

But like many I got, Left SR…..

The SR’s, of all stripes, were in favour of continuing the war.

Apart from that many of their policies were not at all bad.

Notably,

At the 5th All-Russia Congress of Soviets of July 4, 1918 the Left Socialist-Revolutionaries had 352 delegates compared to 745 Bolsheviks out of 1132 total. The Left SRs raised disagreements on the suppression of rival parties, the death penalty, and mainly, the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk.

Then there was this:

The Left SR uprising or Left SR revolt was an uprising against the Bolsheviks by the Left Socialist Revolutionary Party in July 1918. The uprising started on 6 July 1918 and was claimed to be intended to restart the war with Germany. It was one of a number of left-wing uprisings against the Bolsheviks that took place during the Russian Civil War.

But are there more details on who the left SRs were?

LibCom has this interesting article: Literature and the Left Socialist-Revolutionaries.

Revolutionary organizations in Russia in 1917-1921.

At the peak of the political influence the number of organization members were approaching 200 thousands. The Left SRs supported the autonomy of the workers’ councils and the federal structure of the country. They criticized Bolshevik Party for the establishment of the dictatorship.

A very sad fact is that when people talk about the poets and the writers of Russia who accepted and supported Russian Revolution, they immediately associate them with Bolshevism. But supporting Russian revolution and supporting Bolshevism is two different things.

For example, the poet Yesenin was a member of the PLSR and sympathized with Makhno. Yevgeny Zamyatin is an author of the novel “We”, written in 1920. This book is one of the great anti-utopias of the 20th century, along with the works of George Orwell. Zamyatin was subjected to repression in the Soviet Union because of this book. In this novel anti-state rebels are fighting for the “fourth revolution”, which aims to liberate people from the power of the totalitarian state: an allusion to the concept of the “third revolution”, anti-totalitarian anti-Bolshevik Revolution of the Left Socialist Revolutionaries and anarchists.

In 1919, Zamyatin, along with many well-known artists (Block, Remizov, Ivanov-Razumnik) was arrested during the Left SRs strikes in the factories of Petersburg. The Left SRs were not peaceful legal strikers: their struggle was not limited to economic demands, they fought for free elections to the councils and wanted the elimination of the violent political monopoly of the Bolsheviks. Strikes were carried out by radical methods: factory’s Left SRs militia used weapons. While all of these cultural figures were not related directly to the performances of the Petersburg workers, they had a direct link with the Left SRs.

Since 1916, an informal group of “Scythians” began to form around the famous writer Ivanov-Razumnik, which gravitated toward the left wing of the Socialist Revolutionaries. It included Andrey Beliy, Alexander Blok, Klyuev, Lundberg, Forsh etc. In the years 1919-1924 in Russia the Free Philosophical Association, WOLFILA, was patronized by the Left SRs. It worked even with a wider circle of writers, artists, social thinkers. Some of them cooperated in the newspapers published by the Left Socialist-Revolutionaries, “The Banner of Labour” and the magazine “Our Way”.

Of course, we can not say that they were all standing on party positions, although, for example, Ivanov-Razumnik was a member of the Central Committee of PLSR. But all of them in one way or another sympathized with the revolutionary-socialism LSR based on the ideas of self-government and individual freedom. Aleksandr Blok’s poem “Scythians” is a great anthem of the Russian revolution, which is nothing else than a poetic statement of Left SRs program.

If the concept of “revolution” is ever to be cleaned from the USSR flavour, then, perhaps, the work of poets, writers, scientists, philosophers of the Scythians and WOLFILA would become closer and more understandable to many people.

P.S. Important role in the discovery of the influence of the Left SRs on Russian literature belongs to the modern historian Yaroslav Leontiev.

Alexander Blok. The Scythians

Millions are you – and hosts, yea hosts, are we,
And we shall fight if war you want, take heed.
Yes, we are Scythians – leafs of the Asian tree,
Our slanted eyes are bright aglow with greed.Ages for you, for us the briefest space,
We raised the shield up as your humble lieges
To shelter you, the European race
From the Mongolians’ savage raid and sieges.Ages, yea ages, did your forges’ thunder
Drown even avalanches’ roar.
Quakes rent Messina and Lisbon asunder –
To you this was a distant tale – no more.

Eastwards you cast your eyes for many hundred years,
Greedy for our precious stones and ore,
And longing for the time when with a leer
You’d yell an order and the guns would roar.

This time is now. Woe beats its wings
And every adds more humiliation
Until the day arrives which brings
An end to placid life in utter spoliation.

You, the old world, now rushing to perdition,
Yet strolling languidly to lethal brinks,
Yours is the ancient Oedipean mission
To seek to solve the riddles of a sphinx.

The sphinx is Russia, sad and yet elated,
Stained with dark blood, with grief prostrate,
For you with longing she has looked and waited,
Replete with ardent love and ardent hate.

Yet how will ever you perceive
That, as we love, as lovingly we yearn,
Our love is neither comfort nor relief
But like a fire will destroy and burn.

We love cold figures’ hot illumination,
The gift of supernatural vision,
We like the Gallic wit’s mordant sensation
And dark Teutonic indecision.

We know it all: in Paris hell’s dark street,
In Venice bright and sunlit colonnades,
The lemon blossoms’ scent so heavy, yet so sweet,
And in Cologne a shadowy arcade.

We love the flavour and the smell of meat,
The slaughterhouses’ pungent reek.
Why blame us then if in the heat
Of our embrace your bones begin to creak.

We saddle horses wild and shy,
As in the fields so playfully they swerve.
Though they be stubborn, yet we press their thigh
Until they willingly and meekly serve.

Join us! From horror and from strife
Turn to the peace of our embrace.
There is still time. Keep in its sheath your knife.
Comrades, we will be brothers to your race.

Say no – and we are none the worse.
We, too, can utter pledges that are vain.
But ages, ages will you bear the curse
Of our sons’ distant offspring racked with pain.

Our forests’ dark depths shall we open wide
To you, the men of Europe’s comely race,
And unmoved shall we stand aside,
An ugly grin on our Asian face.

Advance, advance to Ural’s crest,
We offer you a battleground so neat
Where your machines of steel in serried ranks abreast
With the Mongolian savage horde will meet.

But we shall keep aloof from strife,
No longer be your shield from hostile arrow,
We shall just watch the mortal strife
With our slanting eyes so cold and narrow.

Unmoved shall we remain when Hunnish forces
The corpses’ pockets rake for plunder,
Set town afire, to altars tie their horses,
Burn our white brothers’ bodies torn asunder.

To the old world goes out our last appeal:
To work and peace invite our warming fires.
Come to our hearth, join our festive meal.
Called by the strings of our Barbarian lyres.

30 January 1918

 

Socialist Workers Party: Copeland Defeat after Corbyn dropped “opposition to Nuclear Power and Trident.”

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Image result for nuclear power no thanks

SWP: Corbyn Dropped Opposition to Nuclear Power.

It is often remarked that us Leftist Trainspotters have a keen interest in the more…well let’s just say unusual, exotic, plain barmy groups on the left.

This Blog is equally celebrated, if not in song, as least in the odd pint of Special Bitter, for its efforts to bring the wisdom of George Galloway to a wider audience.

The following statement from the Socialist Workers Party, which argues that  the underlying reason for Labour’s defeat in the Copeland by-election, lies in Jeremy Corbyn turning “ his back on his anti-nuclear principles“, marks the entry of the SWP into the proud ranks of the Posadists, ‘Loony Bins’ Greenstein, the WWSS, Gerry Downing and the Sparts (Continuity Faction).

After Stoke and Copeland by-elections, how can Labour move forward? Socialist Worker. by Nick Clark

Labour’s share of the vote has dropped steadily in both Stoke and Copeland for at least the past fifteen years—long before Corbyn was leader. The picture is the same in numbers of Labour seats across Britain.

There is a long-tern process of disillusionment with a Labour Party that has not acted in working class people’s interests.

Workers have suffered for years with attacks on wages, jobs and living standards—a process Labour wedded itself to.

Defending the NHS was supposed to save Labour in Copeland. The only feature of Labour candidate Gillian Troughton’s campaign was that she was against the Tory attempt to close Copeland’s maternity service.

It’s a big issue in Copeland, but it didn’t save Labour. Perhaps people just didn’t think that voting Labour would make a real difference.

Comrade Clarke then sagely notes:

Corbyn has not been able to turn round Labour’s decline. He has been undermined and weakened by constant attacks from right-wingers. This intensifies the sense that Labour is divided and ineffectual.

But sniping from the MPs is always going to be a problem for a left Labour leader. In an effort to overcome such pressures, Corbyn promised to break Labour from the mainstream political consensus in two leadership elections and a “populist relaunch” earlier this year.

Instead he has made crucial concessions to the right in a bid to keep them onside.

Corbyn dropped his opposition to nuclear power and Trident nuclear weapons.

He gave in to right wing arguments, particularly from the Unite and GMB union leaders, that being against nuclear power and Trident weapons would mean attacks on jobs. But Corbyn does not seem credible when he turns his back on his anti-nuclear principles. Labour lost anyway and missed the chance to win over at least some people.

….

Before the election this was observed,

Labour’s big problem is whether voters in Copeland believe Corbyn supports nuclear power. The party leader has insisted he was right behind Sellafield, the nuclear decommissioning site that is the constituency’s biggest employer, as well as Moorside, a multibillion-pound nuclear power plant which the government insists will be built next door despite huge financial problems engulfing the major backer, Toshiba. But there are doubts. (Guardian).

Even Lindsey German of the far from sound as a bell, Counterfire,  registers that,

The constituency was already a marginal, the Tories are well ahead in the polls, the issue of nuclear power is central and there were fears over jobs.

The SWP’s answer to Labour’s problems?

Big demonstrations against Trump and racism, and in defence of the NHS are a start.

Indeed.

 

*******

Background:  We don’t need nuclear power (Socialist Worker. 2013. – the most recent article SW devoted to this issue…?)

Written by Andrew Coates

February 25, 2017 at 12:56 pm

Momentum’s Crisis: Serious Debate Breaks Out.

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Image result for chesterfield socialist conference

From Socialist Movement to…..Momentum?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Is Momentum A Socialist Conference bis?

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

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

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

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

What structures does it have for this purpose?

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

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

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

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

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

Jon Lansman.

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

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

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

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

Avoiding this predictable fight was the goal.

This is something critics have to grapple with.

Lansman  also notes,

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

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

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

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

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

But he is far from alone.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But I digress…

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

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

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

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

Alan is nevertheless spot on to comment,

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

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

We certainly need a voice for them.

Alan may equally well be often right to say,

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

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

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

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

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

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

But…..

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Written by Andrew Coates

February 17, 2017 at 1:31 pm

Trump, Populism, and the Left.

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Populists High on the Hog.

From the vantage point of the left, from liberals to socialists, Donald Trump is a ‘truth’, a reality, the “actuality of the populist revolution” that is hard to grapple with. The thousands who demonstrated against his Muslim/Visa Ban in London on Saturday, (40,000 to the organisers, 10,000 to everybody else), and the anti-Trump protests across the country, express heartfelt outrage at the US President’s xenophobic measures. It is to be hoped that they continue in the event of a Trump State visit to Britain. But beyond our backing for the worldwide campaigns against the new President the nature and destination of his politics needs serious reflection and debate.

In What is Populism? (2016) Jan-Werner Müller described modern populism as a “moralistic imagination of politics”. Müller’s description is tailor-made, not only for populist protest, the indignation at the ‘elites’, the neglect of “hard-working people” and respect for those who are “more ordinary” than others that marks UKIP and the galaxy of the Continental radical right.

But, What is Populism? argues, it is not just that for populists “only some of the people are really the people”. Trump has passed from the idea that his election represents the will of the ‘real’ American people, a claim to sovereignty that overrides any consideration of the plurality of the electing body, to efforts to bring the sovereignty of law to heel. In this case, the emerging political model, is an alternative to the ‘non-adversarial” consensus in ‘liberal’ democracies.

But Trump’s triumph is very far from a mobilisation against the “élitocratie” favoured by supporters of ‘left populist’ anticapitalism, through grassroots movements involving forces capable of giving voice and a progressive slant to demands for popular sovereignty.

It is an illiberal democracy.

Müller predicts that in power,

..with their basic commitment to the idea that only they represented the people”. Once installed in office, “they will engage in occupying the state mass clientelism and corruption, and the suppression of anything like a critical civil society. (Page 102)

This looks a good description of Trump’s first weeks in office.

Nick Cohen has warned that the British Conservatives have not only failed to stand up the British Populists but forces may lead some of them to shift in the same direction (What has become of conservatism? Observer. 2911.17)

Populist Calls to Break up the EU.

After Brexit, Trump’s victory has reverberated in the democratic left as warning that, for some, that the left, from its ‘liberal’ US version to our socialist and social democratic culture, has lost touch with ‘ordinary people’. A rapid response has been to advocate some kind of ‘left populism’. For the moment the prospect of a left-wing populism in Britain looks reduced to making appeals to the ‘people’ against the Tory and financial elite. Or to put it simply, using the term as a way of looking for popular support on issues which play well with the electorate. A more developed tool-box approach, perhaps best mirrored in the efforts of the French Presidential candidate Jean-Luc Mélenchon to stand up for La France insoumise, ends up with precisely the problem of illiberal democracy sketched above.

This can be seen in the demand, formally announced today, by the French Front National, to prepare for what Marine le Pen has called ‘Frexit’. That is for a process which, if she wins power in the April-May Presidential elections, begins with renegotiating European Treaties, proceeds to France dropping the Euro, and ends with a referendum on leaving the European Union (Marine Le Pen promises Frexit referendum if she wins presidency).

Organising and supporting the anti-Trump demonstration were a number of individuals and organisations (Counterfire, SWP, Socialist Party) that backed Brexit. Trump is famous for his support for Brexit. It is alleged that Ted Malloch, who wishes the “break up of the EU” is waging a campaign to become Trump’s Ambassador to the European Union (Patrick Wintour. Guardian. 4.2.17).

Trump is said to be “cheering on” the populist forces in Europe. While not supporting UKIP the British ‘left’ supporters of Brexit cast their ballot in the same way to leave the EU. The results of the Referendum, it need hardly be said, are probably the best example of the failure of the left to ‘channel’ populism in its direction

Will these forces also welcome the “break up” of the EU? Would they back Frexit? An indication that they might well do comes from the strong support and attendance of Trade Unionists Against the EU at the ‘Internationalist’ Rally last year (May 28th Pour le Brexit) organised by the pro-Frexit Trotskyist sect, the Parti Ouvrier Indépendant Démocratique.(1)

If they take this stand, and these groups have to have views on every EU issue, regardless of ‘sovereignty;’ a part of the British left is in letting itself in for some major difficulties. In What is Populism? Müller asked, by placing the construction of the “people” against the “market people” – or the People against the European Union ‘neo-liberal superpower – will this “import the problems of a genuinely populist conception of politics? “ (Page 98)

The sovereigntist ideal of the Front National is quite clear about defining who the French ‘people’ are; it even intends to give them preference in jobs (préférence nationale).

What kind of ‘construction’ of the People around what Laclau has dubbed On Populist Reason (2005) as an “us” opposed to an (elite) “them” is that?

This indicates the kind of action Marine Le Pen takes against critics (the journalist asks her about employing her thuggish bodyguards as “Parliamentary Assistants” on the EU Payroll.

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(1) “quitter l’Union Européenne” Wikipedia.  More details in the Tribune des Travailleurs on the ‘Constituent Assembly’which will carry out this process. Mouvement pour la rupture avec l’UE et la 5e République

 

Brexit Left in Disarray as May and Trump Float Trade Deal and Revive “old fashioned imperialism.”

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May “left the door open for the greater involvement of US corporations in British healthcare.”

Before the Referendum the Socialist Workers Party warned against the EU’s ‘project’.

Another example of the neoliberal essence of the project is given by the secretive negotiations for the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), a free trade deal the EU is brokering with the US. TTIP will further prise open sectors such as education and health to the multinationals, and equalise environmental protection and workers’ rights at the lowest level across the two regions.

The Socialist Party claimed,

Voting to leave the EU would set TTIP back, and send shockwaves through the unelected command of the bosses’ EU.

Trade Unionist Against the EU published this claim:

Vote for an exit and vote no to TTIP

A vote to get out of the EU is a vote against TTIP.

They claimed:

these ‘trade deals’ are nothing new, just good old fashioned imperialism; a word that EU enthusiasts in the labour and trade union movement rarely like to use and with good reason.

Oddly, not only has no shock occurred, but TTIP Mark 2 looks already underway: this time negotiated directly between two bosses’ representatives, Trump and May.

Theresa May suggests UK health services could be part of US trade deal  reports the Independent.

PM insists Government remains ‘committed to an NHS that is free at the point of use’.

Theresa May has left the door open for the greater involvement of US corporations in British healthcare as she arrives in America to lay the groundwork for a future trade deal.

Ms May would only say that she was committed to a health service that is free at the point of delivery, but made no comment on whether the NHS would be off the table in any future talks.

Trade and the UK’s economic relationship with the US will be one of the key pillars of the Prime Minister’s visit to Philadelphia and Washington DC.Asked whether health services might form a part of a potential deal, she said: “We’re at the start of the process of talking about a trade deal. We’re both very clear that we want a trade deal.

“It will be in the interests of the UK from my point of view, that’s what I’m going to be taking in, into the trade discussions that take place in due course.

“Obviously he will have the interests of the US. I believe we can come to an agreement that is in the interests of both.”

The Telegraph reports that the agenda is set out within the following framework,

  1. Defence: Mrs May will be keen to ensure that Mr Trump remains fully committee to the Nato military alliance which is a vital organisation to keep Russia in check in eastern Europe. Both leaders are expected to urge other Nato countries increase their defence spending to 2 per cent of gross national product.
  2. Trade deal:  Mrs May and Mr Trump will seek to find common ground on trade and lay the groundwork for a new deal after Britain leaves the European Union around March 2019. Mr Trump is keen to agree deal within three months.
  3.  Russia: Mrs May and Mr Trump will discuss the West’s concern about Russia.Vladimir Putin and Donald Trump will speak directly for the first time since the US president’s inauguration in a telephone call on Saturday.

Old fashioned imperialist bargaining between sovereign powers  indeed.

Counterfire: People’s Brexit and the anti-Trump Movement: ‘Socialism or Barbarism’.

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Socialism or Barbarism – on the Agenda says Counterfire. 

There are few better illustrations of the confusion of the Brexit left than Counterfire, the groupuscule which runs the remains of the People’s Assembly, and which has great influence in the Stop the War Coalition (StWC).

One minute it was exulting in the ‘actuality of the revolution’.

The next warbling about a People’s Brexit.

Here is their latest dire warning.

The right in power, resistance and transformation Jack Hazeldine. 24.1.2017.

As the political centre collapses and politics polarises – as it has begun to do here and in the US – such mass movements of resistance, combined with the popularisation of left wing and socialist ideas have huge potential to advance a transformational alternative to the false claims, failure and scapegoating of the populist right in power.

Indeed, they absolutely must in this situation. As Rosa Luxemburg famously described: it is socialism or barbarism.

Yet in fact Counterfire has lurched further to the protectionist side:

Only a People‘s Brexit will bring the change we need Ben Myers. 22.1.2017.

The People’s Question Time ‘Brexit: What are our demands?’ provided a good platform for this. Now we need to form a strong opposition to an ultra-capitalist Tory Brexit, by fighting for a People’s Brexit, where industry is protected, and workers‘ rights are expanded.

To further the interests of the working class communities that voted Leave last year, our objectives should be: to push the government into protecting trade union rights, protecting and enhancing our right to withdraw labour, and a renewed defence of freedom of movement.

Also, we must continue to challenge the racism and xenophobia of the political right and argue for a truly internationalist Brexit.

Internationalist, that is, which protects British industry, and leaves the EU labour and social legislation, and by its very nature restricts freedom of movement.

While the drawbridge of Castle Britain is being hauled up eyes turn to the USA, a topic Counterfire is a lot happier to talk about.

As the old order stumbles, our side must embrace the internationalism that underpins anti-Trumpism, asserts Kevin Ovenden 24.1.2017.

Building on the unity of Saturday from below, against whatever lash-up Trump and May come up with.

That is an approach that can help undermine Trump in the US and May in Britain. That is what we did with the rise of the movements which marked the start of this century, from Seattle, through Genoa to the global anti-war movement.

We didn’t do it by looking to one trading block of capitalism and alliance of states against another one.

How true.

With socialism or barbarism on the horizon the historical tasks facing Counterfire are truly enormous.

Perhaps they should team up with another lost soul, Alex Callinicos, who now bravely declares:

Accepting Brexit is indispensable to offering an alternative to neoliberalism.

Socialist Worker. 24th of January.

Written by Andrew Coates

January 24, 2017 at 4:49 pm