Saturday 19 March 2016

Momentum Vs Workers Power

I recommend reading the comments before this post. It is premised on a mistake.

After the the outing of Gerry Downing as a useful idiot for our party's enemies, the race is on to find more specimens of the outrageous, the unhinged, and the anti-semitic. None of it has to do with the disinterested pursuit of a story, of course, and everything to do with inculcating guilt-by-association in the minds of the public, and is why Labour should not make a comfortable home for people of this ilk.

The latest attempt to stoke a panic about far left idiocy was driven into the back woods last night by the unlamented departure of Iain Duncan Smith. What is the story I speak of? This one. Scooping on it yesterday, The Times reported that Momentum in Lambeth were planning to picket a fundraiser for a local councillor running for the assembly in this May's GLA elections. What is that there Momentum like, eh?

Obviously, I wouldn't be writing if all I was going to add was further incredulity. There is a little more than meets the eye to this matter. Firstly, as with all things there's a political context that has been swept under the carpet. As the most seasoned Momentum watchers will note, its branches aren't in the habit of picketing Labour Party representatives. Saying idiotic things to them on Twitter, yes. Standing outside with banners and asking people to respect your picket line, no. What's going on then? It turns out that the picket was an item in any other business brought to the meeting's attention by one Stuart King. Stuart isn't a Labour Party member, but holds the treasurer's position in Lambeth Momentum. And he was raising it, apparently, on behalf of the local anti-cuts campaign against the closure and reconfiguration of services by Labour-run Lambeth Council. It has attracted some celebrity support and library workers have walked out twice over the proposed cuts. Florence Eshalomi in her capacity as a Lambeth councillor previously headed up the authority's Cooperative Libraries Commission, which was meant to save the borough's libraries. Hence rather than just being another councillor abiding by the group whip, it is reasonable to assume that the cuts and reconfiguration going through are associated with plans she had previously put her name to. As such, it is entirely reasonable that an anti-cuts group might want to protest outside a semi-public political event being put on for Florence's benefit.

A case of the party establishment decrying a perfectly legitimate attempt to hold a local politician to account for her voting record? There's a little bit more of a stroll down the rabbit hole to go. Stuart King, of course, isn't a name unknown to far left circles in London. He is a contributor to Red Flag, the self-styled "voice of Labour's revolutionary change." Looking at some of the by-lines in this earnest and august publication, we have household names - in lefty trainspotter homes at least - like Dave Stockton, Jeremy Dewar, and Bernie McAdam. In other words, it's the organisation-formerly-known-as-Workers-Power.

Workers Power were an orthodox Trotskyist split from the International Socialists in the mid-70s, and subsequently evolved away from the "innovations" Tony Cliff brought to his brand of Trotskyism in favour of the screed laid down by the Old Man himself. As a "fighting propaganda group" whose membership never got far beyond 50 activists in Britain, it managed to build itself its own petty international organisation and ... that was about it. There was little to mark WP out in the sect marketplace. The Sparts and International Bolshevik Tendency had the minuscule head-banging market wrapped up, the SWP was the home of mindless activism, and the Socialist Party were effectively the refuge for Labourism-in-exile. The only feathers WP had to its bow was a pitch slightly to the left of the larger organisations whom they regarded as "centrist" (opportunistically caught between the poles of reform and revolution), and a tendency to turn up to meetings and propose ranty, ultra-left motions and actions. You can take the, um, organisation out of the organisation ("we're only a newspaper, guv"), but Stuart's attempt to get his local Momentum branch to go to war against a local councillor shows all the finesse that kept WP on the margins of British sect life is still with its successor groupuscule.

So let's be clear about this. It is not Momentum who are campaigning against a putative London Assembly member and sitting councillor, but a cranky Trotskyist group as part of an anti-cuts campaign they've latched onto. Obviously, it is a very difficult political situation when groups of workers and a Labour-run local authority are in dispute, but resolving that situation within and between different wings of the labour movement requires tact and talking, none of which is aided by a pointless Trot outfit trying to flog a newspaper or two off the back of it. Unfortunately, for as long as non-members of the Labour Party can hold office in Momentum this kind of nonsense will keep happening. If Trotskyists want to picket councillors and sell their unreadble guff outside meetings, that's a matter for them. But allowing any adherent of a Trot group a directing role could choke the positive potential Momentum has - and present opportunities to those who'd like to see it strangled.


Boffy said...

The fact that ex-WP, who as you say never had more than 50 members - I'd say that was a generous estimate - can get one of their members into any kind of position in Momentum, let alone Treasurer, shows the problem. Its a bit difficult to hold the line that this was just a sect activity, when that sect has one of its prominent members, also holding a top job within Momentum!

The same thing applies with the AWL. It is unfortunately always the case that where the democratic basis of election to various bodies is not transparent, and where the actual electorate for such positions comes down to a handful of activists, unrepresentative minorities will always be able to use their fanatical members, and their organisational discipline to get representation grotesquely out of proportion to their actual support within the particular organisation, let alone the wider labour movement.

It is why so many such organisations have been wrecked in the past, both because it makes them easy targets for our opponents, and because the inevitable infighting of the sects tears them apart and makes them uninhabitable for ordinary workers. You might even be led to suspect as Marx and Engels did with the activities of the Anarchists within the First International, that the sects are so riven with police spies and provocateurs, that such action is actually planned by our class enemies. It certainly would explain a lot of the lunacy.

In the best of all possible worlds, the Labour Party, as it first began more than a hundred years ago, would operate as a federal party that allowed in other parties, in the same way as exists with the Co-op Party, but this is not the best of all possible worlds, and there is a world of difference between actual parties and organisations that have support and resonance within the working-class, who operate honestly within a federal party structure for its overall advancement, and the activities of a range of micro-sects, with no support amongst the working-class - in fact the support in elections for these sects is so small, that they don't even seem to have the support of a handful of friends to vote for them.

Th sects do not want to belong to the LP on a federal basis, of the kind that existed for the ILP in the 1930's, or could have applied to the CP when it transformed from the BSP in the 1920's, when Lenin proposed they apply for such affiliation. They have no desire to actually build the LP, because they all believe that it cannot become transformed into a socialist party. As the AWL described it a short time ago, they view it as a stinking corpse, which I suppose puts them in the position of being maggots within it.

BCFG said...

Tactically it would be really wise for us to say bad things about Muslims, but the only the bad Muslims, obviously. It would be wise to warn of the dangers of immigrants, while telling everyone how utterly caring we are about their plight, it would be wise to laud the achievements of Israel and say absolutely nothing, and I mean absolutely nothing about their daily brutalisation of the Palestinians and the fact Israel was founded and grew on land theft (because anything other than saying how wonderful Israel is amounts to anti Semitism - of course, its the only position you can take intellectually).

Hang on a minute, who in the public gives a shit about Israel and whether we attack them or not? I think the last polls showed more sympathy with the Palestinians actually, which really really scared the non deluded folk of this nation.

So fuck Israel and fuck Israel again. And keep saying it because Gerry Downing is only an issue inside the bubble.

BCFG said...

“and their organisational discipline to get representation grotesquely out of proportion to their actual support within the particular organisation, let alone the wider labour movement.”

This was the Blairite assumption against the likes of Corbyn not so very long ago. Clearly in the wider Labour movement left wing policies, such as anti Zionism, are popular and are increasingly beginning to chime with people battered by the response to the 2007 crisis. It is to be expected, given this shift in the political landscape that certain events will happen that don’t follow a clear, simple path of perfect democracy. Purity is an illusion. So this episode does not represent the problem with momentum it simply reflects what is inevitable with such a dramatic shift in politics. If the so called sects are able to take up senior positions and use this to push their agendas this does not reflect a problem with sects but a problem with the wider labour movement. And this is the truth of the matter; the sects are simply a reflection of the problems with the labour movement as a whole, including the Labour party. And this has always been the case.

The effective problem in this case is one of inequality in the media and the result that small issues get blown up into massive issues. In other words while we have a shift in the political landscape the unfree media is still the unfree media.

It is about time we stopped obsessing about the sects and started obsessing about the bigger problems within the Labour movement, or actually let us start rejoicing that these historic problems are being brought to light because the political landscape is changing. This is not the time to be on the defensive.

Anonymous said...

I believe that at one point Workers Power had as many as 108 members.

Boffy said...

"I believe that at one point Workers Power had as many as 108 members."

Wow!!! You don't say. That many eh. So, as a national organisation they had as many members as my old LP Branch had at its high point!

Phil said...

Come now, Boffy. Better fewer but better and all that ...

It's worth noting, as one comrade has pointed out to me on the Facebook, that Stuart actually split from WP in 2006 with about a third/half of their cadre to form the Permanent Revolution group, which dissolved in 2013. As far as I can tell he isn't politically associated with his former comrades, which renders much of the above analysis pointless. Oh well.

Igor Belanov said...

As we know, the Labour Party are the 'official' representatives of the working-class, which makes it a fascist act to demonstrate against any anti-working-class behaviour of the Labour Party, or something like that...

Unknown said...

Yes Phil is completely right. I have never been a supporter of Red Flag nor have I been a contributor to its paper. So can the writer correct this post. I was a founder member of Left Unity and remain in it. We campaign for a Labour victory for Jeremy Corbyn in 2020 and for a Labour victory in the London Mayoral elections. We do not stand in elections against Labour either nationally or locally. refers to this site: "The posts are by no means short but they are filled with well researched information.." Clearly standards are slipping.