Momentum and Labour

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21/05/2016 by socialistfight

By Richard Wise, Labour Activist


“So from the founder of the Momentum (John Lansman, above) we have a demand that Livingstone should leave politics altogether. This apparently does not prejudice any ongoing investigation by commenting at this time as the statement asks the members to do and nothing more. This is hypocrisy and furthermore a basic denial of Livingstone’s right to natural justice and a fair hearing regarding the issues surrounding his suspension.”

The Momentum group grew out of the marvellous grassroots campaign that arose to deliver the election victory for Corbyn in last summer’s leadership election. During the campaign’s Corbyn’s 100 rallies the last one was the night before the result in his own constituency of Islington. These rallies attracted two types to them in their many thousands. They attracted ex-party members who had dropped out at various stages of the Blair years and over various critical policy decisions, Iraq, foundation hospitals etc. The second group was a wave of new people attracted to Jeremy Corbyn’s anti-austerity message and agenda and the air that this opened up for discussion and debate. This air space had been crushed by 20 years of Blairite control of the Party machine and thus any debate had been squashed and managed.

What occurred during that summer is summed up nicely by John Trickett, a Corbyn-supporting MP:

“Equally remarkable as the election of the new leader was the movement of at first hundreds, then thousands, and eventually tens of thousands of people coming to public meetings to discuss politics. Then they moved into that venerable political institution: Labour Party. The commonly held view had been that ideology, politics, and political parties were all perishing away. This consensus was shaken to its foundations, as was the rest of the political landscape when this new spontaneous movement emerged.” (Guardian 25/09/2015)

At its height this movement at best estimates 16,000 volunteers came together to deliver the Corbyn victory. These volunteers formed themselves into local groups up and down the length and breadth of the land. In our borough from the first meeting of a half dozen we held regular meetings of 30 or more with street stalls where there was a genuine enthusiasm with people signing up throughout the campaign.

The other aspect that attracted the new wave and ex-members was the idea that Corbyn advocated of “a new kind of politics” indeed this was the theme of the Party conference in September. This was about opening up debate and full unhindered debate with participation as opposed to the control and spin of the Blair years therein lied the attraction for the ever increasing numbers who supported Corbyn.

After Corbyn won his historic victory becoming Labour leader the Momentum group was launched to continue and build on the Jeremy4Leader campaign. Build on the enthusiasm and sought to maintain the volunteers as activists in a wider movement to support Corbyn now as leader. The founding statement of Momentum is:

“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.”

Momentum go on to explain how they will do this:

“Encourage those inspired by Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership campaign to join and get involved in the Labour Party. Facilitate and coordinate the building and support of organisations that can make concrete improvements to people’s lives, thereby demonstrating how collective action and Labour values can transform our society for the better. Organise inclusive events, rallies, meet ups and policy consultations for political education and mass mobilisation for a more democratic, equal and decent society.”

These are all wonderful sounding statements and aims for Momentum who seized the initiative of protecting and then developing the legacy of the Corbyn4Leader movement. But what the reality has been far removed from an adoption of “a new kind of politics” and a failure beyond a few well attended local Momentum meetings to even maintain the volunteer network of Corbyn supporters never mind develop it.

Unfortunately what we have witnessed is as far from “a new kind of politics” as we can get. Momentum has from the outset sought to control the direction of the post Corbyn election movement and channel it in a suitable direction. In fact what has seen participation dwindle only eight months later is indeed a negation of the very participation that was the main attraction in the heady days of last summer.

Although there are 100 or so local groups of Momentum there has been no founding conference to elect the National Committee and the Steering Committee itself was never elected in that way. There is an absence of democracy within Momentum with the sole purpose of allowing Jon Lansman and supporters who lead Momentum to control the political and organisational direction of the left movement around Corbyn.

In the borough Momentum that grew out of the local Jeremy4Leader group at no point was there an invite to send a delegate to a national conference to elect the national committee. The only invite we have received is an invite to send two representatives to a London meeting.

Initially described itself as “network of people and organisations that will continue the energy and enthusiasm of Jeremy’s campaign”. But it is far from that. It has now been decided by the unelected national committee that it has moved away from an open supporters’ network to one of a membership based group. This has obvious flaws in that particularly for new activists surely it can only sow confusion in being a member of Momentum and then separately encouraging them to join the Labour Party as well. And having adopted a membership method that comes without a genuine democratic structure control can only be from the top down.

The reality of Momentum is that the control has to exist from the top down in order to defend the leadership of Jeremy Corbyn but without criticism and also to support and defend the political agenda of the leaders of Momentum most notably Jon Lansman. This is not to take anything away from the tremendous work and campaigning of local groups but sadly that work has little to do with the national Momentum and the direction it wishes to take itself in.

Nothing underlined that more than the events of the last week. Local Momentum groups were instructed by the national office to cease any public comments or debate on the issue surrounding Ken Livingstone’s suspension from the Party and were only allowed to make the following statement: “Ken Livingstone has been suspended from the Labour Party. We have no desire to prejudice an ongoing investigation by commenting at this time.”

However, Jon Lansman during this period as the well known founder and leader of Momentum was able to continue to tweet publicly on this matter.

“A period of silence from Ken Livingstone is overdue, especially on antisemitism racism & Zionism. It’s time he left politics altogether … Ken Livingstone achieved many good things for London and beyond. But all political lives end in failure, & he should now depart voluntarily.”

So from the founder of the Momentum we have a demand that Livingstone should leave politics altogether. This apparently does not prejudice any ongoing investigation by commenting at this time as the statement asks the members to do and nothing more. This is hypocrisy and furthermore a basic denial of Livingstone’s right to natural justice and a fair hearing regarding the issues surrounding his suspension.

The sad trap that Momentum have fallen in or we have to ask deliberately chosen to take is to support the McCarthyite witchhunt designed with one aim and that is to attack the left and to weaken Corbyn’s base of support and then remove him and hand the Party back to the safe hands of the right wing neo-liberals.

If we are to truly defend the legacy of the heady days of last summer when tens of thousands were awaken by Corbyn’s anti austerity message and the freedom and air to debate the way forward it cannot be done by the controlled method of Lansman and Momentum are currently taking from the top down not permitting criticism of the leadership or the methods that are taken.

As socialists within the Labour Party we have many enemies within as can be easily seen over the last weeks in particular ably supported by the state, their media and other agencies. The only way to combat this is to come together in a campaign to deepen the roots of socialism both organisationally by winnings key positions and politically extending the reach and power of socialist ideals.

The right is organised and has the support of the capitalist class if we are to win we need to be organised also and realise the power of our enemy.

However, this can’t be achieved by the top down method of Lansman and the current method of Momentum but a return to the “new kind of politics” a genuine open and participatory movement with the sole aim of winning the Labour Party over to the ideas of socialist change. ▲


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