Tendance Coatesy

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Posts Tagged ‘Labour Party

Momentum: Latest Internal Disputes.

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….rigorous and effective political discussion is not some self-indulgent distraction from the ‘real work’ – be that getting a Labour government or nudging up attendance figures at some demonstration. The great promise of Momentum is that it provides an opportunity to fight for political clarity among greater numbers of people….

Labour Party Marxists: Momentum: Fight for political clarity

Before beginning this post on Saturday’s Momentum Steering Committee meeting,  we note that there is no mention on the Momentum aligned  The World Transformed plan to hold events on the theme of “our Brexit” and “a Great Britain that takes power back from the economic elites Trump and Farage belong to.”

This has lost Momentum a lot of good will.

In the light of the Richmond Park by-election result, we await clarification of this idea, “Targeting marginal constituencies and areas with high Ukip support with a string of local events discussing Brexit to “Take Back Control”. How this will tie in with the decision to ” to fight for migrants’ rights and to defend and extend free movement, and fight for Labour to do the same.” when the events are intended to involve not just opponents but  “supporters of Brexit” (“bring together leave and remain voters“) remains to be seen.

But Momentum had other business to discuss than the details of most important issue in British politics today.

Left wins on democracy, but right keeps hold of Steering Committee – report of 3 December Momentum NC

Ed Whitby, Northern (North East and Cumbria) regional delegate

Today’s Momentum National Committee (3 December, Birmingham) was long overdue – no meeting for seven months, due to repeated cancellations of the NC by the Steering Committee – so the agenda was absurdly full with proposals about how to run the forthcoming conference, how delegates should be elected, how motions will be decided, etc, as well as motions on other issues.

The left, more radical, pro-democracy wing of the NC won on some democracy issues including the structure and powers of the upcoming national conference, passing policy for a conference of delegates from local groups that can meaningful decide Momentum’s policy and plans; as well as on some other issues (eg defending freedom of movement and migrants’ rights, and fighting expulsions and suspensions). But the more conservative wing managed, by one vote, to block holding a new election for the Steering Committee, even though it was elected seven months ago, before many events, debates and controversies.

..

The key votes:

•  The NC voted for a sovereign national policy-making conference, representing members via local groups with most of the time committed to motions and debate, as well as political education.
• That this conference should make policy and establish a constitution.
• We voted down the proposal from the SC majority that we could only discuss three key areas.
• We voted that the conference would be on 18 February, 25 February or 4 March (25 February clashes with Scottish Labour conference).
• We voted for a composite from the Northern, London and Midlands regions advocating motions can be submitted one each from local groups, liberation groups, students and youth, affiliated unions, the NC and regional networks; three weeks before conference; with compositing, an e-forum to discuss motions and an online priorities ballot.
• Two delegates for every 100 members or part thereof (at least gender balanced and groups sending more than four must send at least one young person).
• Those not covered by a group can send at same rate elected by ballot.
• If not covered by a group 30 people can submit a motion.
• Liberation groups and students and youth can send delegates, to be agreed by NC in consultation with these groups subject to verification of structures and elections.
• We elected a Conference Arrangements Committee of seven people: Alec Price, Huda Elmi, Josie Runswick, Delia Mattis, Lotte Boumelha, Jackie Walker, James Elliott.
• We voted against complicated formulas for voting and instead for simple delegate voting at conference.
• We voted that group delegates should be elected at face-to-face local Momentum group meetings.

This seems like major victories for democracy. The risk is that the incumbent Steering Committee will try to void or get round these decisions. We must urge them not to do so.

……

….many good proposals were won, but the failure to re-elect the Steering Committee, and the fact that the NC was stuffed with delegates elected on a dubious basis or not really elected, leaves many issues of democracy unresolved. On the other hand, given that, the victories the left won were even more impressive. However, there is a real risk the democratic gains achieved today will be overturned. The membership must fight to stop this happening.

Decisions taken

• For Momentum Youth and Students’ proposal to fight for migrants’ rights and to defend and extend free movement, and fight for Labour to do the same. This could be very significant indeed.
• A national housebuilding programme.
• The North West region motion for action against suspensions and expulsions from Labour and in defence of Wallasey, Liverpool Riverside and Brighton and Hove Labour Parties.

And,

No votes were taken on censuring the SC, on basic accountability, on the Momentum company structures.

This shows the, very low, turn out, for the on-line elections inside Momentum.

So, we know one thing clearly: there are some people who consider that there is a continuing battle between left and….right in Momentum.

There are also individuals, apparently on the Conference Arrangement’s Committee, publicly making the traditional virulently  sectarian remarks about opposing factions present at this meeting.

We look forward to seeing how they run this Conference. 

Whether it will be a force to win a Labour Party that fights for and wins an alternative to neoliberalism” remains to be seen.

But, as Red Flag, the group formerly known as Workers Power (League for the Fifth International) comment,

Written by Andrew Coates

December 4, 2016 at 12:20 pm

Carnival of Reaction: Diane Abbott, “Sounding like Ukip is no way for Labour to win.”

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Diane Abbott: Labour Should Hold its Nerve Against Racists Who Say: “‘What are you still doing here? We voted for Brexit.’”

What has happened to the “People’s Brexit“, or, as the leader of the Stop the War Coalition, Lindsey German, called, “a chance to shape the future of British society along egalitarian lines” ?

The Carnival of Reaction continues.

The latest news is that this individual had been elected to lead UKIP.

People in my family, where I live in Hackney, have been shouted at in the street and told: ‘What are you still doing here? We voted for Brexit.’ Brexit has become a euphemism for anti-immigrant feeling. “I’ve got friends on the South Coast, which is not ‘left-behind Britain’, and yet people are shouting at them on the bus: ‘Why are you still here?’”

Says comrade Diane Abbott in the I’ today.

..the shadow Home Secretary, argued that the party should “hold its nerve” and appealed to its huge membership to confront “toxic” arguments over immigration. “It’s as if the Brexit vote has given people permission to say they things didn’t feel able to say before,” she said in an interview with i.

She continues,

Ms Abbott’s appointment by Jeremy Corbyn, and her decision to take personal control of immigration policy, has dismayed some Labour MPs who fear the party’s failure to take a tougher stance on the issue will make it vulnerable to Ukip. But she has no truck with that argument, insisting: “I don’t think there’s any way forward for the Labour Party electorally from sounding Ukip-lite. “If you are attracted by Ukip arguments, you are going to vote Ukip. And in areas where they are not so upset about migration they are going to be baffled about what we are actually doing.”

The MP for Hackney North and Stoke Newington added: “What some of my colleagues don’t seem to bear in mind is there are
people out there who are genuinely frightened by the turn this debate has taken.” Ms Abbott blamed anti-migration feeling in many Labour-loyal areas which voted for Brexit on disaffection in post-industrial Britain and a “cry of loss for a world which isn’t coming back”. She accused New Labour of taking those areas for granted on the mistaken assumption that there was nowhere else for its natural supporters to go. Ms Abbott argued Labour’s 500,000-plus membership should take the initiative in campaigning on the continuing economic boost from migration.

It was a tough task “in the era of Farage and Le Pen and Trump” but was the right thing for the party to do, she said. “If you were a Corbynista you would feel very let down if we said anything else. “We’ve now got the biggest social democratic party in western Europe, and we have to respond to it almost conversation by conversation, but at the same time being seen to address the real concerns people have about the NHS, job security and so on “I understand how high feelings run, but I just think we have to beware of a downward spiral in the debate.”

The Independent reports,

Some Labour backbenchers are furious with Diane Abbott, the Shadow Home Secretary, accusing her of trying to stamp on any debate about immigration which could see Labour trying to “outdo Ukip”.

Written by Andrew Coates

November 29, 2016 at 4:42 pm

Crisis-Riven Momentum Shifts to National Populism: “This our Brexit”, “Taking back control is not the preserve of the right.”

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Momentum to Narrative Farage and Brexit Back Under Control. 

Momentum is undergoing a major crisis, amidst factional fighting and personal antagonisms.

This git so bad earlier this month that it appeared in the mainstream media  (How Momentum entered the crisis zone . Momentum was the engine of Jeremy Corbyn’s victory. Now a civil war is tearing it apart. New Statesman)

 Some of the exchanges are far worse than have been made public to a wider audience.

The latest has been an interminable dispute about its national structures.

It began with this, “MxV, an innovative digital democracy platform to enable Momentum members to shape the organisation’s purpose, ethics and structures.”

An on-line consultation resulted, we hear, in more suggestions for how the group should be run than a debate on how many angels can dance on the head of pin (see:  Democracy denied: Momentum’s online democracy platform.)

Or, the classic Left Unity conference debate on such issues.

Now Momentum is set to collapse into further in-fighting as the pro-Brexit – that is Lexit –  Populists take the initiative.

We observe that this ‘initiative’ has not been discussed with the Momentum membership at all. 

Corbyn’s Momentum group launches nationwide campaign to ‘Take Back Control’ of Brexit

‘Taking back control is not the preserve of the right.

Momentum has announced it is to host a series of nationwide events and debates to coincide with Government’s triggering of Article 50 in 2017.

Alongside The World Transformed the organisation – set up in the wake of Jeremy Corbyn’s victory as Labour leader – will launch a series of political and cultural events in local communities across the country.

The events will run under the name ‘Take Back Control’ – the political slogan used by the Leave campaign during the referendum on Britain’s membership of the EU.

Emma Rees, one of Momentum’s national organisers, told The Independent: “After the success of The World Transformed in Liverpool, ‘Take Back Control’ is a series of exciting events that will bring together leave and remain voters to debate the terms of Brexit, the future of Britain and give a platform to voices too often left out of political conversations.”

Lotte Boumelha, a Take Back Control organiser, *added: “Theresa May claims ‘Brexit means Brexit’. But this empty phrase has been used to hide the fact that the government is in chaos. Many people, both leave and remain voters, have felt dis-empowered since the referendum and shut out of the debate.

“Take Back Control will be about reclaiming the narrative and opening up the negotiations. This is our Brexit. We should get to decide what it means and what it will look like. And while Theresa May has only a majority of 14 MPs – she will have to listen to us.”

In March, to coincide with the Government’s anticipated triggering of the exit process from the EU, The World Transformed will work with local Momentum groups, constituency Labour parties, and trade union branches to “bring together leave and remain voters, open up the Brexit negotiations and discuss how we can take back control from economic elites and establishment politicians.

How on earth these meetings are going to ‘take control’ of any negotiations, elites and politicians,  is as clear as mud. 

Anybody, anybody, who talks about “reclaiming the narrative” with Farage on the loose amid the Carnival or Reaction,  is a kenspeckle fool.

What are they going to do: story-tell it all to sleep?

The New Statesman comments,

While The World Transformed is “definitely” part of Momentum, according to Todd, its exact relationship remains under discussion, as does its relationship to the wider Labour party.

To repeat, nobody seems to know how the hare-brained initiative was decided on (certainly not by Momentum membership, or any accountable body, then by whom?), who controls it, and, as for its consequences…..

Anna Chen says,

Jeremy Corbyn’s Momentum betrays the 70% of Labour voters who voted Remain

Socialist Worker: Left Needs to Focus on “Energetic Rallies” and not “internal” Labour Battles as the Socialist Party Calls for Victory by Letting it Join.

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Always Ready with Good Advice.

It’s a hard task, but –  hell knows –  somebody has to keep up on what the non-Labour left is saying these days.

How else would we know what the vanguard is telling us?

Socialist Worker reports,

The Labour right has defeated the left in recent battles inside the Labour Party—ensuring it holds its grip on party structures.

Candidates backed by the right won all leading positions at a meeting of the party’s National Policy Forum last Saturday. Its policies shape Labour’s manifesto.

It followed right victories at regional conferences and annual general meetings of Constituency Labour Parties (CLPs).

The paper continues,

There is a danger that the defeats could encourage the Labour left to step up its attempts to win internal battles.

Labour left group Momentum has focused on winning more seats for CLP representatives on the party’s national executive committee (NEC). The NEC had been set to meet on Tuesday to debate changes to its rules and make-up.

Momentum had focused its efforts on an online campaign in the weeks running up to the meeting, calling on its members to demand more CLP seats.

FBU union general secretary Matt Wrack recently called on all Momentum supporters to back the campaign. He warned, “Time is running out to transform Labour”.

But late on Monday evening the proposed changes were removed from the NEC’s agenda—meaning the left was defeated before the meeting even began.

The recent victories for the right show that the left is at its weakest when fighting internal battles against Labour’s right wing bureaucracy.

Weeks of campaigning can swiftly be quashed by backroom manoeuvering. And Labour’s new mass membership clearly has little enthusiasm for getting bogged down in internal battles.

But the left is stronger when it looks outwards. Jeremy Corbyn’s re-election campaign was successful because it drew tens of thousands of people to energetic rallies that promised a fight for a radically different society.

The Socialist, paper of the, you’ve guessed it, Socialist Party, has another option,

To be successful, Corbyn and those around him need to boldly come out for a programme to transform Labour and to transform the lives of working and middle class people.

That means opening up the Labour Party to all anti-austerity forces, allowing them to affiliate on a democratic, federal basis. It means inviting back into Labour all those socialists who have been expelled or excluded from membership by the Blairite party machine. It also has to involve being clear and open about what alternative is necessary..

Big public speeches, letting the Socialist Party join Labour….It’s all boiled down to what comrades have always said about these two groups: 1) The SWP organises “rallies” – that’s what they do. 2) The SP ‘builds the SP” – that’s what they do. Their lines have the merit of putting in second place all the other stuff about class struggle, nationalisation, revolution, People’s Brexit etc.

Jeremy Corbyn Christmas Single: Get Pop-Picking Now!

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credit: Liam Scully/YouTube

Robb Johnson and the Corbynistas (Picture: YouTube).

One for all the pop-pickers out there!

The Metro reports (note, some of the words may have been slightly edited).

A Landmark Jeremy Corbyn Christmas single.

If, after a new kind of politics meeting,  you’re getting super extra excited ‘n’  full of energy and enthusiasm  to listen to this breakthrough track, the video is only a – safe – teaser – that’s right, the very best is yet to come.

The debut single is performed by Robb Johnson and the Corbynistas, and features a lot of people in lovely warm Christmas jumpers.

The video opens with Johnson on a street sweetly singing: ‘I’m voting Jeremy Corbyn, I’m voting Jeremy C. I like his ideas, they’re fair and they’re clear, Jezzer and me we agree.’.

And it ends with a group of people melodiously chanting around a table: ‘We’re voting for Jeremy Corbyn, JC 4 PM 4 ME.’

Smashy and Nicey say,” Clashtastic, mate!”ate!

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Written by Andrew Coates

November 14, 2016 at 11:51 am

Socialist Party (Ex-Militant) Apply to Join Labour in order to “Kick out the Blairites”.

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Socialist Party Campaigns to Join Labour in order to “Kick out the Blairites”.

Expelled Militant Labour members apply to rejoin party, reports the BBC.

Expelled figures linked to the former Militant wing of the Labour Party have formally applied to rejoin Labour.

 75 applicants include former Militant leaders Peter Taaffe and Dave Nellist, who was Labour MP for Coventry South East for nine years.

They cite Donald Trump’s election as US president as a motivation to “assist the struggle to transform Labour”.

The internal battle with the Militant tendency faction was one of Labour’s biggest controversies of the 1980s.

Mr Taaffe, who Thewas expelled from Labour in 1983, said: “We want to play our part in the struggle to transform Labour and urge the National Executive Committee to aid this process by admitting us, and others who have been similarly expelled or excluded, into membership.”

Mr Taaffe, now the general secretary of the Socialist Party, was expelled along with ex-MP Mr Nellist – now the chairman of the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition (TUSC).

Their affiliations with Labour rivals mean it appears unlikely that their applications to rejoin the party will be approved.

A Labour spokeswoman told the BBC: “It is against Labour’s rules to be a member of another political party or organisation which has its own programme, principles and policy, or distinctive and separate propaganda, and which is therefore ineligible for affiliation to the party.”

The Socialist Party  (SP) statement reads,

We the undersigned urge the Labour Party NEC to accept the joint application for Labour Party membership made by 75 activists who have previously been expelled or excluded from Labour for their socialist ideas. In total they have over 1,000 years of membership of the Labour Party.

Among the 75 are members of the Militant Editorial Board, including Peter Taaffe, now general secretary of the Socialist Party; Tony Mulhearn, one of the leaders of the struggle of Liverpool City Council in the 1980s; and Dave Nellist, previously Labour MP for Coventry South East.

They are socialists, trade unionists and anti-austerity activists who should have a place in the Labour Party.

Whether this is a “publicity stunt” (Morning Star) to mark the SP’s weekend event Socialism 2016 or not there are points to be made.

We note the following:

  • In asserting their right to a “place in Labour’ the Socialist Party makes no mention of dissolving its organisation. The Guardian states, “Taaffe said his aim was for the Socialist party to affiliate to Labour, and ultimately field joint candidates – and the application process would be part of a “rolling petition” by his supporters. He was dismissive of Momentum, the grassroots group set up to support Corbyn and transform the Labour movement. “We don’t agree with Momentum,” he said, singling out Jon Lansman, its chair, for criticism. “He doesn’t agree with compulsory reselection. What is the point of Jeremy Corbyn without the right to remove the Blairites, who are an enormous drag on the progress of the Labour party?”
  • The Socialist Party has the goal of ‘removing’ the Blairites, that is purging them from the Labour Party. As they state, “the idea now of building a mass movement to keep Jeremy Corbyn and drive out the Blairites as part of preparing to fight and win a general election is widely accepted among rank and file Corbyn supporters.” (The Socialist). In other words Taaffe wants to join Labour – and will complain that his democratic rights are denied if he is not admitted – in order to purge the party of political opponents.
  • The Socialist Party is a Leninist party which does not tolerate internal differences of its own. It has also a long history of trying to impose its ‘line’ on other groups on the left.
  • In 2010 its trade union front, the National Shop Stewards Network, announced support for the “NSSN All-Britain Anti-Cuts campaign”, a rival body to the trade union backed, “Coalition Of Resistance.” There were complaints from the minority of non-SP members active in the NSSN, “Launching a further national anti-cuts campaign, while obstructing cooperation with other organisations, would be a retrograde step, as well as changing the nature and direction of the NSSN. If the NSSN becomes controlled by one political party which is unwilling to work constructively with any other shop stewards in the network, we would see no point in further participation. Confirmation that this is the way the the SP intends to proceed seems to be borne out by events since the meeting of the Steering Committee – the secretary has unilaterally announced that only SP members will represent the NSSN at 2 forthcoming meetings discussing left/anti-cuts cooperation, with not even a pretence at consultation with non-SP officers .” (Socialist Unity) This lack of ‘consultation’, in fact making decisions without any reference to the minority in the formal leadership of the NSSN, was described in much, much, greater detail by those involved and bore the marks of the culture of a classic sect/cult.  It would be tiresome to list all the other examples of this behaviour. They can be summed up by describing them as the actions of a ‘miniature’ orthodox Communist Party with its ‘front organisations’ run by the Party’s own leading bodies.
  • The Socialist Party actively campaigned for a Brexit vote during the European referendum. As formidable mythomanes,  at a local meeting, and no doubt elsewhere, they talked of a great, indeed massive,  movement on the European left and workers’ movement  to support Britain leaving the EU. It rapidly turned out (that is after asking other European comrades) that their network of support was based on the ultra-sectarian, nationalist, anti-EU and negligible electoral force, the French based Trotskyist group, Parti ouvrier indépendant démocratique (POID). Their ‘international’  meeting, last may, is reported  here . Pour le Brexit Mai 2016. POID, is the result of, you guessed it, a 2015 split, that is with the  Parti ouvrier indépendant. That group scored 0,34 % of the vote in the 2007 Presidential elections, with  Gérard Schivardi, now a member of POID.
  • The Socialist Party has formed the backbone of the Trade Union and Socialist Coalition (TUSC), “In the 2015 General Election TUSC stood 135 prospective parliamentary candidates across England, Wales and Scotland, as well as 619 council candidates in local elections. The party performed badly at the election, winning 36,327 votes, or 0.1% of the popular vote. No parliamentary seats were gained and no deposits were saved (Wikipedia).

Regardless of the merits of admitting individuals who have been in the SP into Labour  the application, en masse, of Socialist Party members to join the Party is not welcome.

 

Written by Andrew Coates

November 12, 2016 at 11:50 am

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

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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