Redress balance

At the Momentum London regional committee on October 15 - the first for least six months - about 33 delegates plus a few non-voting visitors heard encouraging reports from 24 or so Momentum groups. While attendance at local meetings had understandably peaked at moments during the second Jeremy for Leader campaign, most local groups reported regular monthly meetings of between 30 and 90. Local groups are still working with locally compiled membership lists, and are handicapped by not (yet?) having access to Momentum’s central database of local members.

In a discussion on Labour conference and Momentum’s parallel ‘The world transformed’ event, while congratulating the TWT organizers for its “incredible success”, comrades highlighted Momentum’s failure to focus on organising the left within the party. We had a left leader, but rightwing conference delegates. To start to redress the balance, Constituency Labour Party secretary Seema Chandwani was invited to tell how the left has gained control in Tottenham over the past four years. “It must be because you can do a better job,” she advised. “There would be nothing worse than taking over and messing up.”

Comrades were rightly discontented by the lack of democratic involvement in Momentum’s last-minute backing for the left slate for the elections to be held at the November 12 London Labour conference, but the major disagreements in the meeting came out in the discussion of motions and amendments. Some objected to discussing motions at all, as this would be “divisive”, and not Jeremy Corbyn’s “new kind of politics”. A few claimed it would be “undemocratic” for a delegate to vote on a motion on which the group they represented had not mandated them. But that view would leave Momentum hamstrung and unable to respond to events, and I am pleased to say it only gained a few votes.

We then proceeded to debate motions condemning the “unjust suspensions” of Labour Party members, which were all carried overwhelmingly - but not before a 50-50 battle over amendments, which eventually removed criticism of Momentum’s steering committee for its cowardly complicity in the attacks against Jackie Walker, where there should have been solidarity: an injury to one is an injury to all.

The Lewisham motion, moved by the Alliance for Workers’ Liberty’s Sacha Ismael, after amendment, was carried by 27 votes to nil, with four abstentions. The final version reads:

“Momentum will, in line with previously agreed commitments, start seriously and publicly campaigning against unjust expulsions and suspensions of individuals and local parties from the Labour Party - and for reform of the party’s structure and processes to stop such factional abuse of the party machine. It will also include calling on Jeremy Corbyn, John McDonnell and other leftwing Labour Party leaders to be bold on these issues.”

A minority of comrades attempted to delete the second sentence, as the “whole purpose” of Momentum is to support Jeremy and John. Thankfully, this view was defeated by seven votes to 21 with four abstentions. For socialists, criticism of those we support is not only a right, but a duty.

The original motion had included “sponsoring and promoting” the forthcoming Labour Purge conference - but I proposed this be deleted, as it was organized by the pro-Zionist AWL, whose members and supporters have been feeding the rightwing ‘anti-Semitism’ smear campaign and witch-hunt against the left, and who voted for the removal of Jackie Walker from the position of vice-chair of Momentum’s steering committee. The deletion was narrowly carried, by 14 votes to 13, with six abstentions.

Back in May 2016, when Jackie Walker was suspended from the Labour Party for the first time, Haringey Momentum had started to organise a solidarity meeting when it was cancelled by local officials. Haringey subsequently adopted a resolution “to be submitted to Momentum’s London committee and national committee”, which “regrets cancelling the anti-Semitism meeting with Jackie Walker … and apologises to Jackie”, and “calls upon the national Momentum to fight back against the malicious campaign of suspensions and defend the Labour leadership’s support for Palestinian rights, and expose this orchestrated campaign to discredit Jeremy Corbyn and the Palestinian cause.” Although this motion related to Jackie’s first suspension from the party, the meeting voted to accept it onto the agenda, at the request of Haringey delegate Mumtaz Khan.

However, after a series of amendments were proposed from the floor, it was decided to postpone discussion of the motion, to allow adequate time for a fuller discussion of the issue of anti-Semitism.

The meeting then debated and adopted (by an overwhelming vote) a petition which read, after amendment, as follows:

1. Condemns the unjust suspension of Labour Party members, many of whom are black, Muslim, committed anti-racists and/or Jewish supporters of Palestinian rights, and many Corbyn supporters.

2. Calls for Momentum to campaign against the purge of thousands of Labour Party members and supporters in the run up to the leadership election, some of which were targeted for spurious reasons, such as tweeting about other political parties. Free speech is a right that should be respected by the Labour Party compliance unit.

3. Calls for Jackie Walker, a Jewish black woman and anti-racist campaigner, to be reinstated into the Labour Party.

4. Calls for discussion on democratic structures and procedures, suspensions and elections at the national conference [of Momentum] in February.

The original wording had called for Jackie Walker to be “reinstated as Momentum’s vice-chair”, but this was removed in an amendment carried by 15 votes to 13 with four abstentions. A victory for the pro-Zionist AWL, which was well-represented among the delegates.

Lack of time prevented discussion of the forthcoming national committee meeting on Saturday November 5, and the proposals from the national steering committee about the “Process for deciding Momentum’s new structures”. These will be debated at a reconvened London regional committee meeting on Saturday October 29 (unfortunately clashing with the Labour Representation Committee’s annual conference). The meeting will also elect four new London delegates to Momentum’s national committee, in time for its November 5 meeting. Hopefully, those who voted to remove Jackie from the position of vice-chair - Jill Mountford and Michael Chessum - will not be re-elected.

Stan Keable
Hammersmith and Fulham


There has been some debate within my Momentum branch, Teesside, about the priorities that Momentum should pursue, now that the Labour leadership election is over.

Fellow Teesside branch member Jordan Blyth, in his recent blog articles (http://ideasbythetees.blogspot.co.uk) emphasises the importance of campaigning for Labour candidates, arguing that “Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership, and Corbynism, will live or die by the ballot box”. Whilst, of course, I would not argue against supporting Labour candidates in elections, it is an activity already organised by the party and Jeremy has promised to establish ‘Labour organising academies’ to train members in the skills needed to campaign effectively. If Momentum’s role is merely to supplement something the Labour Party already does pretty well, there isn’t much point in the organisation existing in its own right.

The joy of Jeremy’s re-election on September 24 was quickly undermined by a series of serious defeats for the left at the Labour conference over the next few days. The outgoing national executive committee added two new members who have proved themselves hostile to Jeremy’s politics, thereby cancelling out the gains for the left in the recent election for grassroots representatives on the NEC. The conference arrangements committee - the body that decides what gets on the conference agenda and how it will be discussed - refused to allow a number of motions put forward by Corbyn-supporting CLPs and manipulated the agenda to prevent delegates from voting against the change in the NEC’s composition. The candidate we supported for Labour’s national constitutional council was defeated by someone from the right of the party.

In the run-up to conference, the left was outmanoeuvred at every turn, as the right of the party made sure that most CLPs sent anti-Corbyn delegates to conference, even in those where the majority of members were clearly supportive of the direction in which Jeremy wants to move the party. And, of course, 4,000 members - almost all from the left and including a number of conference delegates - were suspended or expelled from the party without due process. Many are still waiting to see the evidence against them and it will take many months, possibly years, before their appeals are heard - during which period they will be excluded from all party meetings and barred from officer positions.

This means it will be very difficult for Jeremy to implement the policy platform that won him the leadership elections in 2015 and 2016 and which inspired so many people to join Labour, or rejoin after years of alienation from the party. It is also unlikely that we will make much progress in transforming Labour’s internal democracy to make local party meetings more inclusive and welcoming to new members who want to discuss ideas and influence things rather than simply deliver leaflets.

The hard truth is that achieving Momentum’s mission “to increase participatory democracy, solidarity and grassroots power, and help Labour become the transformative governing party of the 21st century” will involve a democratic struggle within the party and winning the battle of ideas. We need to encourage new members to get involved in decision-making in their local branches and CLPs, to put themselves forward for roles on committees and seek election as conference delegates. We should be trying to put ourselves in a much stronger position at the next Labour conference, so that the rule changes needed to make the party more democratic - such as automatic mandatory reselection for all Labour candidates and the abolition of the anti-left compliance unit - are not excluded from the agenda and have a chance of winning support from delegates.

CLP meetings should not be merely question-and-answer sessions with the local Labour MP, but forums where fresh ideas can be aired and discussed. Debating political issues is how people increase understanding, develop ideas and improve their ability to communicate them. If the policies Labour presents to the electorate are to have any value, they need to have been subjected to thorough scrutiny and challenge by a party membership that has developed the self-confidence to engage in such debates, both at a strategic level and with the devil in the detail.

To help achieve that, Momentum can organise political education, so that Labour members understand how the party works and how they can influence decision-making. The old guard resisting the party’s new direction will use every trick in the book to prevent change and keep their grip on power. We need to know that book (also known as the Labour Party rule book) by heart, so that we can support members to participate.

We should provide opportunities to learn more about the issues affecting our society and debate the policies needed to tackle them. This could be done in informal settings and involve activities, such as film nights, where we watch a documentary and then discuss its political implications.

These activities are not incompatible with the electoral campaigning that Jordan advocates. Far from it. The many members who’ve joined in the last year because they are excited about politics and changing our society for the better are more likely to campaign effectively for Labour if they believe they have had a meaningful role in shaping its message and developing our party’s policies.

Of course, we will be in a better position to argue for the democratic transformation of the Labour Party if we ensure that Momentum has its own house in order on that, hence my drafting the ‘Democracy in Momentum’ motion that was unanimously approved by Momentum Teesside in September 2016. It is vital that Momentum practises what it preaches in terms of democracy and transparency.

Steve Cooke

Anarchism rules

Just to correct Jack Conrad’s observation that “Anarchism, on principle, shuns … fighting within the existing institutions of the working class: trade unions, co-ops, Labour Party, Communist Party, etc” (‘Overthrowing a false prophet’, October 6). Anarchists do not necessarily reject work in existing unions.

Many anarchists do so and have done so since their inception. What we do not do is to confine ourselves to existing unions or their framework and institutions. We work inside, alongside, outside and in proximity to ‘unions’ - or more particularly the working class which comprise them and the communities on which some of them are built.

Union structures are not generally built for all-out war with the state, such as we in the National Union of Mineworkers faced in 1984-85, and as such we developed scaffolding around the organisation, which formed unofficial, semi-official and clandestine structures to support the main frame, so long as that main frame was defending the class and fighting the class enemy. Lodge and branch committees designed for the day-by-day humdrum of wage bargaining and trade union duties are not built for running a major rank-and-file strike and as such miners elected then and there strike committees from their own active ranks. These were not part of any organisational plan of the union, but were faithful expressions of the real union.

Insofar as union bureaucracies stamp on democracy and stop full intervention by the membership or the community, we oppose them and supplant them. This we do as part of ‘the union’ and not something alien to it. A few years ago Arthur Scargill described me as “the only anarchist to defend the union rule book”, to which I was forced to respond: “I only defend the rules which defend the members against you, Arthur!” That just about sums up the dichotomy.

Comrades who haven’t read my wee pamphlet on the subject of class struggle in unions - All power to the imagination: revolutionary class struggle in trade unions and the petty bourgeois fetish of organisational purity - can still get one from me for a fiver plus £3 postage.

David Douglass

Bad marketing

Phil Sharpe’s criticism of Hillel Ticktin was a defence of the market in the name of socialism (Letters, October 13). He claims that the market is not to blame for people being unable to meet their needs, but rather it is a problem of inequality and so it follows that all that’s required is a redistribution of the wealth.

He argues that the market can become a tool for the egalitarian goal of socialism. A few tweaks here, a bit of tinkering there and, hey presto, capitalism is fixed and we can call it socialism. Supermarkets become the models of socialist organisation, we are assured. The Russian Revolution is raised from its grave once more as some sort of evidence, as if any market (except perhaps the black market) during wartime can be used as evidence of success or failure of market principles. Should Churchill and Roosevelt be ascribed as socialist pioneers for placing industry under special non-market conditions?

Dogma it may be, but the abolition of the market (commodity production) is socialism. ‘Market socialism’ is, of course, an oxymoron, a contradiction in terms. Any society which retains market mechanisms just can’t be regarded as socialist, at least not without violating the original, historical meaning of the word. To confirm my own shameless dogma, Marx envisaged socialism as being a society entirely without markets, money or any buying and selling. As an advocate of ‘market socialism’, and accepting the monetary exchange economy, no matter how democratised by state/municipal ownership and/or cooperatives, Phil should come clean and admit he is no longer a Marxian socialist. Von Mises argued that it would be impossible for a non-market socialist society without recourse to a price mechanism to make rational resource-allocation decisions.

The pattern of demand and allocation in a socialist society will be monitored and automatically acted upon via a self-regulating and self-correcting system of stock control, so perhaps Phil is right on the importance of supermarkets - but for the wrong reasons, since it will be their bar-codes, not their cash check-outs, that will guide the producers as to what needs to be produced.

Markets result in impersonal forces (‘market forces’) which ensure that the people do what is required in order for it to function. While the market is presented as a regime of freedom, where no-one forces anyone to do anything, the reality is different, as the market ensures that people act in ways opposite to what they desire. Wage-labour is the most obvious example of this. Or, as Marx explained, “the process of production dominates individuals; individuals do not dominate the process of production”.

The market is not to facilitate the practical, technical organisation of production. It is not about passing on socially useful information about the organisation of production. It is ultimately about calculating the exploitation of labour. They are calculating costs plus the average rate of profit. The market price of commodities produced must exceed the price of the materials and labour-power required to produce them and it has nothing to do with the practical organisation of production and distribution.

Alan Johnstone