Thursday 11 August 2016

Against Entryism

Haven't we already done this? The spectre of Trotty entryism is being raised again, this time by deputy leader Tom Watson. Writing to Jeremy Corbyn, his recent warnings that the Old Man's followers are pouring into the party to twist minds as well as arms now, apparently, has some evidence to back it up. In addition to a dossier comprising the pronouncements from the likes of the Socialist Party and Socialist Workers Party, Tom exposes a nefarious document allegedly passed between Momentum activists on how to take over Labour Party branches. As this recommends making meetings interminably boring, uncomfortable, and adversarial, long-term members could be forgiven for thinking the party has been infested with Trots for years. Alas, there is a problem with Tom's claims of leftist diabolism. Embarrassingly, and hat tip to Dave Osland, the lines are lifted from a Progress book review. Super ouch.

Tom's claims are ridiculous and overblown, but there is no denying the two principal organisations of the far left - our aforementioned SP and SWP friends - would dearly love a piece of the Corbynist action. I mean, to think of yourselves as the most far-sighted section of the proletariat and spending decades attacking and standing against the Labour Party, only for a mass take over of the party by the left to happen. And all without you, how embarrassing. I guess when you don't bother analysing anything afresh and stick with creeking formulae from 20-odd years ago, you're bound to come unstuck from time to time. Still, with so much new blood for the left around they want in. Here are some very good reasons why they should be kept out.

The first is their modus operendi. As each, even the smallest group, believe they are the future revolutionary party in embryo, it is the building of that organisation that matters first and foremost. And as there is no higher authority than the central committee, that inevitably leads to the subordination of all political activity to its self-interest. It's one reason why all the extra-Labour left unity initiatives of the last 20 years have failed. One would-be Lenin could never submit to the will of another, even if the political moment demanded it. And when it comes to campaigns, again, there are countless examples of left groups, and the SWP in particular moving into/trying to take over campaigns, and then running them down or smashing them to bits when they no longer serve their purposes - which is always party building. Truly an example of the goal being nothing, and the movement being everything. Though the "movement" in this case is a cranky cult with an unenviable record of covering up sexual assault allegations.

Ultimately, what all Leninist groups share is a parasitic approach to politics: find a host, attach, suck in as much fighting fund and recruits as possible, and then move onto something else. The SWP do it. The SP did when they were Militant, and subsequently worked toward a time when they could play their former role afresh in a new workers' party. Their shared political parasitism is at odds with the patient, methodical activity the building of a truly mass, deeply rooted party demands. Nor would it be helpful for Labour to have its name hijacked and traduced by people wedded to the fantasy of revolution when, in fact, they speak only for themselves.

The second issue is related to the first. While obviously a revolutionary as opposed to a constitutional reformist party with extra-parliamentary extensions, the Bolshevik party that led the October Revolution was criss crossed with platforms, open factional presses, and a democratic culture of debate and accountability. Yes, really. In form, Lenin's party bears more of a passing relationship to the freedom that exists within the Labour Party than the small groups claiming our Vladimir's mantle now. Our contemporary advocates of workers' democracy finds their parties groaning under a "managed democracy" in which that year's outgoing central committee is always the incoming central committee, that internal debate exists within tightly circumscribed lines and pays all due deference to an entitled and overblown full-time apparatus; and as an authoritarian culture breeds sycophancy and unaccountable power, both organisations have an ugly history of mistreating and, in some cases, abusing their members. Something you might expect from a religious cult, the last thing from collectives nominally committed to building a socialist society.

Thirdly, their authoritarian politics are absolutely not suited to the moment. Where and when it had a mass base, revolutionary politics in Western Europe were symptomatic of the workers' movement being largely outside of political systems. The reasons why Germany's SPD voted for war credits, attacked revolutionaries, and later dumped its formal adherence to Marxism wasn't solely because of its leadership. Much more importantly, their members were getting progressively integrated into parliamentary politics with all the opportunities and problems that brings. It has since proven to be true that wherever representative democratic systems are at the heart of constitutional politics, the tendency is for the majority to be brought "inside". Only those who, for whatever reason, are or feel excluded are likely to be drawn into revolutionary socialist politics. Hence why the far left here remains marginal - the natural constituency for them is vanishingly tiny.

As well as being obsolete, politics is now undergoing profound change. A key contradiction for contemporary capitalism is between the need to maintain labour discipline, and the active, creative forms of subjectivity (modes of living, self-identities) we all possess which it is simultaneously dependent on for aligning them with consumption and, more importantly, for generating the innovative, analytical, critical cognitive skills becoming more central to work (and therefore surplus value production) in the 21st century. These modes of life are embedded and and cannot easily, if at all, be disentangled from the social media networks that enable the sharing of interests, the swapping of knowledges, and the senses of mutual recognition these have brought. Left politics is still in the process of figuring out what this means, but it's clear that when widespread horizontal communication exists and is part of the everyday existence of masses of people, and that the numbers engaging in these practices continue to grow, the command-and-control politics espoused by our Leninist friends is, at best, ill-suited. At worst, it works against this progressive trend, severing its adherents off from it while wasting their time on political work that has next to no impact, or frustrates the work of others.

In short, the revolutionary left as represented by British Trotskyism is a dead end trend, albeit one that could cause damage and division if they were let into our rapidly changing, rapidly growing party. Best to keep the proscription on Militiant and its successor organisation, to tell both the SP and SWP their parasiting the Corbyn campaign is not needed, and communicate to them in no uncertain terms their "support" is as welcome as syphilis.


Matty said...

What do you think about the AWL?

asquith said...

Igor Belanov said...

Well, you certainly left that particular straw man bleeding profusely on the floor.

Anonymous said...

Have former Militant, SWP etc joined/rejoined the Labour Party? Yes.
Are they talking to and influencing new young members? Probably.
Is this something to worry about? No. There aren’t enough of them.
The mass movement we have now is very different from the days of Militant entryism 30 years ago. Then Militant wanted to keep meetings small and highly controlled and weren’t looking for a mass membership. There were tales of certain CLP’s in North London being “full” when applying to join. The tactic of alienating ward members by constant challenges to officers and members until they stopped coming, then moving meetings into members houses to discourage others from coming. Similar behaviour at CLP meetings along with lengthy worthy motions, with that little clause in them that shifted the meaning.
However once Militant left as an organisation within the Labour Party many former members stayed and became councillors, campaigners etc. In Southampton we gained control of the council with a Labour group where over 50% were under 40 years old, it was our youth, enthusiasm and new ideas that changed the Party. Hopefully this is another watershed moment.

Paul Ewart said...

'The first is their modus operendi. As each, even the smallest group, believe they are the future revolutionary party in embryo, it is the building of that organisation that matters first and foremost. And as there is no higher authority than the central committee, that inevitably leads to the subordination of all political activity to its self-interest. It's one reason why all the extra-Labour left unity initiatives of the last 20 years have failed'

Not quite all....New Labour were very successful for a time.

Anonymous said...

Met a few SP with a street stall a couple of days ago.

They argued it was mainly them that defeated the poll tax and made a few other grandiose claims.

They remind me of a religious cult. I suggested they are to socialism what the Plymouth Breathen are to Christianity.

They are still banging on about democratic centralism and the Kronstadt rebellion. Trotsky is their prophet. It is a bit like the discussions on transubstantiation.

How many Trots can fit on the head of a pin? Well there are not enough of them. They shamefully admitted that they had come out if the woodwork to cause some trouble and capture a few new student members.

Why do we have this burnt out baggage to contend with. They are like UFO spotters.

jim mclean said...

Who are all these rich kids running momentum, spooky, like they are preparing to take over Labour like the Bullingdon Club did the Tories. Bugger the Trots.

John said...

In reply to anonymous 11th Aug 18:34. What a load of guff you write. I was a member of Southampton Labour Party during the period you write about. At that time there were 15 active wards most meeting on a monthly basis and all of them sending delegates to the monthly meetings of the GC. I don't know of any that met in houses (please name the ones that did & I will tell you who 'controlled' them). Now in Southampton there is no delegate structure GC, and most of the wards no longer meet. Labour gained control of Southampton in 1982, although there were supporters of Militant in the party none were expelled or left before that date.

By the way the 'Party is full' excuse started with the very right wing Braddock's in Liverpool, never heard it used in relation to London or Militant before.

James Semple said...

I am a new Corbynista, 76 years old and a political novice. I joined the local CLP and attend various events, such as John McDonnell's tub-thumper in Exeter. I was delighted to see two left wing papers being sold outside the meeting door by a mixed bag of hoary old Trots, one of whom had an jnteresting conversation with me about syndicalism.

Such manifestations add colour to what can be a bit dull, as long as one does not take them seriously. In fact, John McD spoke well and I went home impressed with the charm of small-town politics - as long as your side is on top. For Ben Bradshaw's supporters it might have been a different experience.

jim mclean said...

Back to the 70's I see.
Ho - Ho - Ho Chi Minh
Caught the Trots and done them in.

Or was that a CPGB chant, factions confuse me.

Dave K said...

Phil I am a big fan of your stuff but I found this disappointing.
You say "what all Leninist groups share is a parasitic approach to politics: find a host, attach, suck in as much fighting fund and recruits as possible, and then move onto something else.".

Whilst there are examples of this (Socialist Alliance, Stop the War,UAF)they mainly relate to the SWP and Socialist Party. Both of whom are only not in the labour party but are still against unions affiliating and their members joining. Taafe's interview was more about setting the bar for entry so high (basically being allowed in as an affiliated socialist society with the constitutional role that infers) that they couldn't re-join even if the Trot hunting stopped.

The most prominent trot group actually in the labour party now is the AWL, they cannot accuse them of opportunism, fishing or parasitism. They made their turn back towards a Labour orientation in the Gordon Brown days after the reversal of the Bournemouth agreement. It was based not upon some idea that it was a fertile recruiting ground but that the union link made it still the main political expression of working class in politics.

The approach is based on the united front. An idea Trotsky and others pioneered in the early days of the Third International. Fighting for the working class immediate aims within the reformist unions and parties whilst also trying to convince workers of the need for a revolutionary class struggle approach.

Of the other groups Socialist Appeal who are the true heirs to Militant have basically been in Labour since 1961. Their so stolid and sloth like you can never accuse them of fleet of foot fishing exercises. They still hold to Ted Grant's thesis that when working class struggle stirs the first place they look to is the Labour Party, therefore the Marxists need to be their with the programme. Its politically wooden as a sideboard but its nothing less then a sincerely held conviction.

There is something parasitic to Socialist Action, but I don't think you can really describe them as Trotskyist or revolutionary. Their politics are on the right of the Corbyn surge and fit with union bureaucrats conception of the world. Also their bureaucratic methods are shared by allsorts of people who never went anywhere near them.

I understand you saw the fuzzy end of the Trotskyist lollipop but it shouldn't lead you to the conclusion trots should be expelled.
That will strengthen the hand of those who want to kick out anyone to the left of Ed Miliband. A blogger whose blog title is from the Communist manifesto will be part of that.

Phil said...

I'm sorry, but for the reasons stated I don't think there is any compatability between Leninist/Trotskyist politics and, when they happen, mass movements of our class. I find the 'but we're good entryists' claims of Socialist Appeal and the AWL unconvincing.

Anonymous said...

Reply to John 12th August. Sorry I was new to the Exec at the time but meetings were in Test I think Redbridge or Coxford but could be wrong, but it was explained as a Militant tactic and action was taken -too long ago to remember what. We gained control of the City in 1984 not 1982, and my point was that Militant members did not all go and were members of a rather sucessful young and innovative Council who kept control (bar one year of NOC) until 2000. Personally I don't have a problem with the current structure of All Member meetings and Branch meetings. The party being full is what I've heard at that time from friends in London.