On December 5 Jon Lansman, Momentum boss and candidate for Labour’s national executive committee, was guest speaker at a public meeting organised jointly by Momentum groups in Hammersmith and Fulham, Chelsea and Fulham, and Kensington. Comrades from the neighbouring Ealing constituenciesalso shared experiences and reported the limited progress made so far, against resistance from the local Labour establishment - particularly anti-Corbyn councillors - in involving the mass intake of new members in the life of the party.
The Hammersmith and Fulham Momentum December newsletter highlighted the hypocrisy of the “broad church myth”:
“However much the Labour centre and Labour right talk about the ‘broad church that is Labour’, they have been very determined to ensure that this is not reflected in the local organisation and leadership of at least two of the CLPs - Hammersmith, and Chelsea and Fulham. So far we have made limited progress in getting Labour members identified as Momentum, pro-Jeremy Corbyn or just generally ‘too leftish’ elected to posts or selected as candidates at CLP level - regardless of their experience, expertise or talent. However, across the three constituencies we have elected people who now need us to support them in their new roles.”
Comrade Lansman spoke about the social crisis produced by austerity, affecting people across the social spectrum, and the need for a “transformative Labour government”. The hundreds of thousands of new Labour members must “change the nature of the Labour Party”, democratise it and put an end to the corruption that is all too common in constituencies.
In Haringey, councillor reselections were not brought about by a Momentum strategy, but by the local Labour leader’s attempt to purge his critics, which roused “full-spectrum opposition”. In Newham, all of the committee members overseeing the trigger ballot in the selection process for mayor were people appointed by the mayor.
In London, Lansman reported, there has been a significant shift in the last year, but, while the London Labour conference backed Jeremy Corbyn, it took an “enormous row” to force onto the agenda things which were then adopted almost unanimously. A Hammersmith delegate characterised the conference as a “grassroots revolt”, which overcame “podium intransigence”. And now the new London regional director is “better” than the one before - rightwing, politically motivated complaints against members are no longer automatically accepted.
Lansman recalled that 20 years ago the rightwingers running London Labour “tore up the rule book”. Four years ago, he said, “we raised the absence of a rule book”; two years ago they accepted the need for one, but it took another year to produce it.
I received encouraging support when, as a founder member of Hammersmith and Fulham Momentum, I explained my expulsion from the party under the ‘bureaucrat’s dream’: rule 2.1.4.B. I was told by an ex-NEC member in the know, “Don’t worry - it’s being taken care of.” When I asked comrade Lansman whether my exclusion from Labour would also remove me from Momentum membership, he replied: “Momentum does not do auto-exclusions. We have a process.”
This is in stark contrast to what has just happened in Sheffield: about a dozen members who had been expelled from Labour for political reasons were auto-excluded from standing in Momentum for any leadership positions and also barred from voting. This followed a narrow vote in favour of “abiding by the national constitution”. Hopefully comrade Lansman will move swiftly to reverse this undemocratic decision.
As for Labour disciplinaries Lansman explained , “there is little we can do” at present, as we still “have not got control of the party bureaucracy”.
At time of writing, Tulip Siddiq has not had the whip removed by the Labour Party. Channel 4 News have targeted Siddiq for her hypocrisy in making political capital by campaigning for the release of her constituent, Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, from an Iranian prison, while remaining silent about political prisoners in Bangladesh, where she had been an active supporter of the corrupt ruling Awami League party.
Siddiq has responded by effectively playing the race card, saying she was born in London and only cares about Hampstead, despite previously boasting on her own website that she supports the Awami League and has run social media campaigns for them in the past. She also claims not to have any influence over Bangladeshi politics - an absurd and indefensible position.
For me these events encapsulate many of the frustrations with remaining a member of the Labour Party. Yes, Channel 4 News is not a socialist outlet and perhaps for balance they should follow up this story by making the same challenges to Tory and Labour MPs who support Narendra Modi and by extension the Hindu nationalists of the Bharatiya Janata Party in India. But fundamentally it is astonishing hypocrisy from the Labour Party - led by supposedly internationalist working class socialists - to suspend the likes of Jared O’Mara for offensive comments made years ago, on the one hand, and, on the other, ignore MPs like Siddiq, who actively support bourgeois governments around the world which lock up opposition politicians and rig elections.
This is another example of the absolutely obvious need for a policy of mandatory reselection for Labour MPs as a basic democratic - not even uniquely leftwing - demand. If members had any sort of oversight over the behaviour of MPs, one would hope that bourgeois politicians like Siddiq would be swiftly replaced, along with many others.
If anyone knows about unelectability, then it is Roy Hattersley. A good writer, he was never a good politician, but he now expects a continuing political role even after having retired from the House of Lords. He lauds the supposed moderation of those who gave us the private finance initiative and the Iraq war. But PFI was the work of the former Militant, Alan Milburn, and of Militant’s economic guru, the late Andrew Glyn.
If Momentum is now as dominant as Hattersley claims, then it is its enemies who are a party within the Labour Party. British politics has long been prey to entryism. Hattersley defends the nominally Labour Haringey council, whose social cleansing policies are denounced in George Osborne’s Evening Standard. Thatcherism arose on the outermost individualist fringe of the tiny Liberal Party. New Labour arose on the outermost Eurocommunist fringe of a Communist Party that had already dissolved itself.
But those in Margaret Thatcher’s own party who have since produced Theresa May did eventually bring down Thatcher. Ostensibly, that was over a European policy that, as a policy rather than as a tone, did not change with her departure. But it was really because of the mass opposition to the poll tax, an opposition that had been organised by Militant. And Tony Blair was eventually removed by his own party. Can anyone remember the official reason? But the real reason was, of course, the mass opposition to the Iraq war - an opposition that had been organised by those to the left of Labour who are often now in it, and who are all very close to Jeremy Corbyn. Think on.
Apropos Mike Macnair’s reply to my article on post-structuralism and decline, he handicaps himself by being pedantic, yet is unclear on some points (‘Historical inaccuracies and theoretical overkill’, November 30). His view of 1968 echoes the French Communist Party’s! Wearing spectacles cannot be compared with full transgenders. Marxism requires a clear historical overview and a theoretical approach. So I offer the following.
Although Marx’s essentialism is derived from the ideas of Aristotle, he gives them a materialist form. Using Marx, as well as the work of Hillel Ticktin, Scott Meikle and Peter Dews, I have developed five related concepts:
(i) Essence of an entity or form, based on “the characteristics that make it the kind of thing it is, … without which it could not exist or be what it is” (Meikle); a thing cannot possibly be explained in terms of its constituent matter (atoms), since that changes, while the entity retains its nature and identity over time. Can it change its nature, become something else? Sex and gender identity, for example, are influenced both by biological and social factors. But can the latter supersede the biological? Where does this end? Third gender, cloning, making sex and desire redundant? What is the relationship between natural/unnatural/artificial? Does this make us more human?
(ii) Telos: The final form to which an entity develops; unless this is interrupted by external accident or, in the case of a nature which contains a constitutive contradiction, by the way in which that contradiction develops.
(iii) Man is a species-being: He looks upon himself as a universal free being, who “reproduces himself … intellectually, in his consciousness, [as well as] actively and actually, [then] he can contemplate himself in a world he himself has created”. On the other hand, “estranged labour tears man away from his species life, his true species activity, and transforms his advantage over animals into disadvantage, so that his inorganic body, nature, is taken from him”. If he is to fulfil himself as a species-being, private property has to be superseded. Only then can man free himself from “one-sided consumption, of possession, of having”. Then, his thinking, creating, loving, via all of his senses are for himself and his fellow man, which is its own end; only then does he become “a total [human being]” (K Marx Economic and philosophic manuscripts).
(iv) Human society is also an entity: As long as class society exists, since there is no guiding intelligence, man must take “conscious control, collectively, of social production and reproduction”, whereby “the telos … of the human species and the telos of society are jointly realised”; then real history begins (Marx/Meikle). Capitalism is the final form of class society. But, the longer it continues, under private property relations, the “productive forces … receive a one-sided development only, and for the majority they become destructive forces … Thus [the] individuals must appropriate the existing totality of productive forces, not only to achieve self-activity, but also merely to safeguard their very existence” (K Marx, F Engels The German ideology). History also requires a subjective factor (revolutionary consciousness/organisation); otherwise society decays - accumulation of capital on one side; atomisation of the masses on the other, whilst capitalism degrades the environment.
(v) In the epoch of capitalist decline, the world revolution should have started in an advanced western country - which it would have done, if it hadn’t been for the betrayal of German social democracy (1914). Yoked to imperialism, the Russian bourgeoisie could not carry out their own revolution. So, in 1917, the Bolsheviks had no choice but to lead their own proletariat on the path of social revolution, although this was contingent upon the revival of the world revolution, only to be dragged down by the yoke of the peasantry. A negative dialectic ensued. Imperialist counterrevolution from without - ie, a terrible civil war gave social democracy the opportunity to smash the German revolution (1918-21). Isolated, the infant soviet regime succumbed to bureaucratic centralism, which enabled the Stalinist counterrevolution from within. The utopian goal of ‘socialism in one country’ was undertaken by means of barbarism. Stalinism failed to stop fascism and a second imperialist world war. It smashed subsequent revolutions in 1936, 1944 and 1968. It opened the door to the rise of the United States as world hegemon, responsible for two atom bomb attacks, as well as more imperialist wars, resulting in the deaths of millions. It also perfected “the society of the spectacle”: news/advertising/entertainment; the latter feeds off work fatigue and the need for distraction (whereas authentic art has almost gone): ie, a ‘fifth impediment’ to adequate consciousness. (Marx outlines the other four in his Economic and philosophic manuscripts: private property, alienation, division of labour, commodity fetishism.)
Post-1968, given Stalinism’s poisonous legacy, the intelligentsia persists with poststructuralism, the “logics of disintegration”, “the dismantling of stable conceptions of meaning, subjectivity and identity” (Dews), which extends across a wide variety of disciplines. Its raison d’être prevents the revival of totalising theories (ie, Marxism). Poststructuralism manifests itself as a Zeitgeist, via the mass media, in the interests of neoliberalism. The free market promises the ‘liberation’ of the few, but for the majority political correctness goes with falling living standards. Reformism is bankrupt.
Hence in America we see the rise of illiberal neoliberalism or the Trump phenomenon, supported by half the electorate. It exacerbates the old ideologies of sexism, racism, xenophobia and nationalism. (If there is another financial meltdown, it could move further to the right!) Now the “logics of disintegration” is echoed by social/political disintegration (identity politics, intersectionality, political correctness, etc). What next?
Having endeavoured to correct Rex Dunn’s misconceptions about the intellectual history of identity politics, Mike Macnair falls victim to Muphry’s law, which states that any correction will itself contain errors of the same sort it purports to correct.
So, onto the genealogy of poststructuralism and friends. Structuralism goes back not to “Claude Levi-Strauss’s critique of materialism”, but originates as an approach to linguistic research that proposed to bracket entirely the question of how words came to mean what they do, and instead focus on how utterances fit together into an overall system. The pioneer here was the Swiss linguist, Ferdinand de Saussure. Levi-Strauss is one of the most influential inheritors of Saussure, to be sure, but many of the post-war French intellectuals were inspired directly by Saussure and his linguist followers, such as Roman Jakobson and Émile Benveniste.
Nor is it strictly correct that these ideas were brought into the left by Louis Althusser and co. Many of the 1950s structuralists were on the French left - Levi-Strauss himself was a fellow traveller of some sort; Roland Barthes could also be named in this connection. Of course, this strengthens the underlying point - that poststructuralism and so on have a longer and more seriously ‘Marxisant’ history than would fit into Rex’s ‘disillusionment’ narrative.
The moral of the story is perhaps that, while we may as a matter of criticism find that some set of ideas - pushed to its limits - has certain political consequences, the grubby reality of intellectual-political history tells us rather that ideas are not very often pushed to their limits in the minds of those who hold them. Mike wonders how any anti-foundationalist epistemology could ever provide a basis for a political project of general emancipation, but that certainly has not stopped people from trying. Certainly there is more to the rise of identitarianism than decades-old fads among French bohemian intellectuals.
In the recent past I have had the pleasure of being involved - as translator and language editor - in the production of a Festschrift - or collection of writings - for Marcel van der Linden, the theoretician of, and networker for, global labour history.
The anthology, edited by Karl Heinz Roth, provides a comprehensive and accessible overview of the state of the art of global labour history as a discipline, with field and case studies from Africa and Latin America, as well as from the Middle East and China. It is a must-read for those interested in the various fields of labour history and the breadth of its material is testament to the growing influence of global labour history, as well as to the international connections of the man to whom it is dedicated.
More details can be found at www.brill.com/products/book/road-global-labour-history. As you will see, the anthology is incredibly expensive. As such, I would urge those of you with library access to order copies for your local institution (please contact Brill directly about doing so - the information is on the web page). A paperback version, which will be much more affordable, will eventually appear, but this is unlikely to be available until the end of 2018.
Finally, should any of you be interested in reviewing this publication, please contact me directly.