If the Labour Party conference has proved one thing beyond doubt, it is the weakness of the Labour left. Far from being the well-oiled, scary machine that takes over one Constituency Labour Party after the other, fighting for the deselection of rightwing MPs and pushing for revolutionary politics (as the bourgeois media want us to believe), Momentum has shown itself to be an utterly toothless tiger.
In its attempt not to give ammunition to the right and bourgeois media,Momentum has failed to organise leftwingers to become branch delegates, stand for AGM positions or, as was painfully evident over the last few days, become conference delegates.
In fact, after Corbyn’s first election in 2015, Momentum went into something of a self-satisfied hibernation mode. Unless there was a group of local lefties pushing a Momentum branch forward, local groups followed the advice of Jon Lansman and made Momentum meetings as boring and unorganised as possible. No democratic elections, no agendas, no transparency, no campaigns of any kind and, crucially, no organised intervention in the local Labour Party.
Then, when the coup started, the tiger had to be shaken awake. It slowly came back to life to organise rallies for Jeremy Corbyn. But, while speakers, sound systems, leaflets, etc were organised with a few days’ notice, Momentum members where then told … to not mention Momentum.
While electoral law is responsible for Momentum fundraisers being asked to shelve their collection buckets in favour of those featuring “Jeremy for Labour”, this does not explain why Momentum members were instructed to take down stalls or move them outside the venue or to the back of a rally. When pressing national and regional Momentum representatives for the reason, local members were told that Momentum was now regarded as a “a toxic brand”, citing in particular the involvement of the Alliance for Workers’ Liberty and the Socialist Party in England and Wales (the latter is, of course, not really involving itself, apart from selling their paper outside meeting venues).
It seems that Jon Lansman and Jeremy Corbyn are unsure as to what to do with the organisation. There is talk of a “discussion paper on the future of Momentum” being produced for the next (second, third?) meeting of the national committee of Momentum, which has just been pushed back to November. Apparently, a national conference is planned for February. What kind of conference? An AGM which all members can attend? Delegates only? How should these be chosen? Will motions be allowed? Nobody knows. The organisers will do everything to stop Corbyn being embarrassed by the involvement of Labour Party Marxists or even the tame AWL.
In the meantime, bureaucratic overkill in the organisation is rife: local membership lists have been taken over by Momentum nationally, who do not share the info with local organisers. All emails going out from any Momentum branch have to be vetted by the national organisation, often leading to delays of many days. It is almost impossible to send out emails to, say, members of a particular Labour Party branch or CLP.
Politically, the message is as conservative as ever: do not call for the mandatory selection of candidates; go and canvass for even the most rightwing of council candidates; declare Jeremy Corbyn utterly ‘electable’; stop talking about civil war in the party and instead stress the need for ‘party unity’.
A hopelessly naive strategy that is clearly leading to failure, as we have witnessed in Liverpool - and one which is coming increasingly under attack in local Momentum meetings. In the light of the victories of the right, and in particular the new rightwing majority on the national executive, it is becoming increasingly important for the left to organise properly within Labour Party branches and CLPs and fight for principled socialist politics. Questioning and challenging the old tactics of the Labour left must be part of that cultural revolution: we should not canvass and leaflet for rightwingers; we should openly fight for mandatory selection of candidates as a democratic principle and we must warn that electoral defeat is likely because of the right’s sabotage, even if Corbyn gives up one principled position after the next.
Labour Party Marxists
Despite Corbyn’s second win, the Labour right are winning the battle in the Labour Party. The left have not organised seriously for the fight. Thousands of socialists have been expelled or excluded from the party with little organised protest. The leadership of the Labour left continues to deny the anti-socialist and anti-democratic nature of the right and attempts to conciliate them.
This can’t succeed, since the right are determined and have the backing of British capital and its state for the fight to retake the Labour Party. It is imperative for the British capitalist class that it not only controls the government, but also the opposition. Deselection is downplayed or dropped by the left leaders. Nato and Trident are promoted and attempts are made to convince the capitalist class that it has nothing to fear from the Labour left. This watering down of left policies will produce demoralisation among the working class supporters of Corbyn and aid the right. If this continues Corbyn, will be sidelined and removed within the year and the Corbyn movement will end in failure.
The only way forward would be for the new left to organise itself to take on and remove the Labour right from positions of power within the labour movement. This would mean democratic debate within the left and the election of a left leadership accountable to the membership of the left (Momentum?). But the left leaders don’t want to do this because it would further antagonise the Labour right, and the capitalist class and its media, and, importantly, provide the basis for a new class-struggle left leadership to emerge that would not be under the control of the left bureaucrats.
Waste of time
I’ve been reading the Weekly Worker online for a while now and can see that there are plenty of pro-Corbyn articles in it. Well, it’s not hard to miss! But, if you could sum up Das Kapital in a paragraph - admittedly not easy - it would be:
‘Capitalism cannot be made to work in the interests of the majority and any attempts to reform it are futile. This is because capitalism will subvert any attempts to reform it, so it’s better to replace it with socialism.’
Maybe I’ve got it all wrong, but that seems to be the clear message from Marx. Given that, it seems a total waste of time to campaign for a Corbyn victory, as, even he gets elected, so what? Capitalism has nothing to fear.
Heck, he even talks about full employment. LOL, as they say. From a capitalist point of view that is great - everyone who can work will work, earning surplus values and the welfare bill will be cut. Win-win for capitalism. But, of course, no politician can guarantee to reduce unemployment, and I don’t think anyone still believes that.
But I liked the article on the UK Independence Party’s new leader (‘Where next for Farage?’, September 22), while the Socialist Workers Party are giving it the old ‘Tories in disarray’ line. Oh well, they told the guys in the trenches they’d be home for Xmas. Guess this is their version - they say it every year. Are they also saying that Labour will romp home in 2020 and end austerity? Now, not even a member of the SWP would believe that.
Today I hit depression again in a way that is not strange to me, as it happens after any major event that I have been to. I think it’s the terrific highs and then the lows that come after. This time is different, though, as I see a very close friend suffering in a similar way.
There have been many highlights at Momentum’s ‘The world transformed’ over the last few days, including an amazing ‘Save Liverpool women’s hospital’ march, anti-fracking nanas, a samba band, scooter riders singing ‘We are the mods’, avoiding being interviewed by the BBC and Channel 4 News, an amazing injustice event at the Casa dockers’ bar, and meeting some beautiful, amazing people.
What stands out for me, though, and why I am writing this, is something that I saw and am still seeing today in my highs and lows. I saw over the last few days how a dear comrade is struggling and suffering with life - capitalist life. We went to see Ken Loach’s new film I, Daniel Blake and what stands out is how true to life it actually is and impacts on us in reality when claiming benefits. We are actually living what is in the film every day - we live it. When I came out of the cinema, I was taken by a friend to the bombed-out church where outside fantastic volunteers were feeding lots of homeless human beings. Humbling is not the word. I was overwhelmed with emotion at the humanity of people and how this can actually happen to us.
My friend cried in Liverpool at an event last night. She is one of the strongest women I know, but the enormity of life is getting to her. In between jobs, with debts rising and a cupboard full of qualifications that cost thousands in money, energy and sacrifice. We watched around the conference and saw suits. That’s all we could call them - just suits. I’m not saying they are good, bad or indifferent people, but they surely were nice suits.
The distance from being an activist and a suit seemed like from here to the moon, I can tell you. A hole in your pocket and hoping not to get asked for your ticket on the train and hearing from another terrific activist friend that she had to tell a child to pretend they are younger than they are in order to get a cheaper ticket. And the child asking after, can she go back to her real age now?
Momentum events were fantastic and amazingly uplifting and showed us an energy that we really do need if we are to change society for the better for so many people and future generations.
So here I am thinking of my friends who are thinking of me and others in the same boat. My glass is half full and on occasion half empty. Tomorrow is another day.
In the spirit of Daniel Blake, I am a citizen.
Labour is not the only party holding its 2016 annual conference in Liverpool. The Left Unity party will have its conference there at the end of October. Left Unity will not succeed unless it redefines its aims, strategy and programme. If it continues promoting the ‘Spirit of 45’ it will not survive and will not deserve to survive. Whilst the Labour Party is undergoing its own internal ‘revolution’, LU must show it too can change. It has to become a different kind of party or fade away.
Thirty years of neoliberal politics from Thatcher to New Labour have left the UK ripe for radical democratic change. It is not just electoral reform. The whole Westminster system has failed. Westminster-style parliamentary democracy works for the political class. The constitution of the ‘crown-in-parliament’, with its massive centralisation of state power in the hands of the crown and its ministers, ensures the policies of the City and major corporations are imposed on the people.
The bureaucratic power of the crown, fronted by Thatcher, Blair and Cameron, has been disastrous for the health and welfare of the people. This has produced a widespread anger against Westminster politics as such. Since 2008 the long fermenting dissatisfaction with the political system has become sharper. Poor election turnouts have shown how little confidence people have that voting can change anything. In 2014 Scotland came close to leaving the UK. In 2016, angry voters in England and Wales voted to exit the European Union, blamed for the democratic deficit.
If the political system is broken, it has been unable to reform itself. The UK needs a democratic revolution - the means by which the people outside parliament are mobilised to take power. People must force radical, democratic change against the vested interests in Westminster and Whitehall. Real democracy, not least in England, needs an alternative to the corrupt politics in the Palace of Westminster.
Consistent democracy is not an end in itself. In England it is the means by which a real social democracy - the Commonwealth of England - can be won, in alliance with democratic forces in the rest of the British Isles. The problem lies with the left in England, which does not fight for a democratic programme or mobilise for a democratic revolution. It is wedded to the politics of Labour.
The Labour Party is not and never has been the party of democratic revolution. It is not and never has been a republican socialist party. It has always been a party of social reform working through the crown-in-parliament and dependent on the bureaucracy of the crown. Labour’s greatest period of social reform was a response to massive popular support for change as a result of wartime radicalisation. It was channelled through His Majesty’s Labour government (1945-50), a safe space for the ruling class.
LU was one political response to New Labour - defending the ideas of ‘old Labour’, socialist Labour and the ‘Spirit of 1945’. Between 1996 and 2010 those who wanted to fight New Labour publicly and electorally, rather than purely internally, tried to build a socialist Labour Party on the outside. Beginning with Arthur Scargill’s Socialist Labour Party, it went on to the Socialist Alliance, and Respect. It ended with the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition and Left Unity.
In 2015 it came as a great surprise to Jeremy Corbyn to find himself the leader of the Labour Party. Suddenly the idea of socialist Labour and the ‘Spirit of 45’ came alive inside the party. Now with Corbyn’s second and bigger victory, the politics of Tusc and LU have been overtaken by events.
The writing was on the wall last year, when Corbyn was first elected leader. In Liverpool, Left Unity has to ask fundamental questions about the world after the Scottish and EU referenda and the rise of Corbyn. What is the Left Unity party now for? As the membership of LU shrinks, the same questions from last year’s conference repeat themselves. Can LU become a different kind of party - a militant, republican socialist party, the party of democratic revolution? In Liverpool we will see whether LU has any real future in the new world now unfolding.
Left Unity and Rise
In an extraordinary bad and excruciating interview on one of the main TV channels on September 26, shadow chief secretary to the treasury Rebecca Long-Bailey MP attempted to claim that putting an initial £100 billion into Labour’s proposed new National Investment Bank would somehow magic up or create an additional £250 billion for public investment.
This was apparently on the basis that commercial banks always have loans considerably greater than the size of their actual cash assets in their vaults. She was attempting (badly) to pray in aid the ‘fractional reserve’ theory of banking, that banks somehow create new money out of thin air.
This is complete and utter nonsense. Commercial banks have to have the actual cash assets in the first place in order to give these to people seeking loans. Reserve ratios are simply a calculation as to how much cash a bank needs to have on its premises at any one time to pay out to depositors who may want to withdraw their money, and not get caught out, as did Northern Rock. This includes assessment of repayments of current loans and advancing of new ones. It is in essence about cash flow. Real money coming in and out.
So, if Labour’s new National Investment Bank was given £100 billion by the government or private capital (even that is not clear in the Corbyn-McDonnell proposal), how would they be able to advance £250 billion - £150 billion of which they don’t have - to potential borrowers? Simple answer: they couldn’t. It’s a complete nonsense and ridiculous. If they are advanced £100 billion of cash in the first place, that is precisely how much they can lend out.
The only body which can literally create new money is the central bank, the Bank of England. Traditionally, government borrowing from the BoE has resulted in increases in the money supply. Nowadays, it is slightly more complex and it is called quantitative easing. The risk of creating new money is that too much money chases too few goods and services, and generates inflation. In fact, without increasing the money supply, you can’t have genuine inflation.
Corbyn-McDonnell once proposed (last year) a “people’s quantitative easing”, which did actually make more economic sense, as it would be new money spent on infrastructure, which in turn would be spent with actual suppliers of products and services, generating additional profits and wages, which would then increase total real demand and overall economic growth. Higher rates of economic growth would therefore mop up any inflationary potential and deliver real gains. That would be far better than actual quantitative easing, which pumps new money into financial assets, values and debt, and as an economic lever is, as once Keynes characterised it, as effective as “pushing on a piece of string”.
If Corbyn-McDonnell-Long-Bailey were suggesting, for example, that the £250 billion be created through a combination of private capital (seeking longer-term economic returns) - some degree of seizure of cash being held on corporate balance sheets, public taxation, printing of money - then that could command genuine credibility, respect and support.
But majoring on an economic programme which has at its centre piece a £250 billion (what happened to the £500 billion?) investment fund, and appearing to have no clue as to where this will come from, and which a 10-year-old numerate child could dismiss, is really not good enough and is not serious politics or economics.