Jo Bird: justice .... but we need to go beyond the platitudes

A vision of royal socialism

Stan Keable of Labour Party Marxists was among the London delegates at the Labour Left Alliance launch conference in Sheffield.

Nowhere in the constitution of the Labour Left Alliance, adopted at its February 22 launch conference, do the words ‘socialism’, ‘working class’ or ‘capitalism’ appear.1 That despite the fact that the founding objective of the Labour Party was working class representation, and socialism was incorporated into its constitution as long ago as 1918.2

Nor is there any reference to the climate-change emergency. Ecological crisis threatens the planet, which can only be confronted by social-system change - by overthrowing capitalism worldwide. Instead, Lincolnshire LLA’s utopian ‘motherhood and apple pie’ motion - for “climate justice” without mentioning capitalism - was blithely voted through: a Green New Deal, “which can be the winning vision, which takes Labour back to power”. No, comrades, another Labour government running capitalism will only lead subsequently to another Tory government. To be “effective” (a pious wish in paragraph 1 of the constitution) we need to raise our sights to working class socialism.

All of this was voted down, when the ‘Our aims and principles’ section of London LLA’s proposed constitution was rejected by about three to one on a show of hands. London had proposed “Opposition to capitalism, imperialism, racism, militarism and the ecological degradation of the planet through the ruinous cycle of production for the sake of production”3 and “a commitment to socialism as the rule of the working class”, moving towards “a stateless, classless, moneyless society that embodies the principle, ‘From each according to their abilities, to each according to their needs’” - Marx’s succinct characterisation of a future communist society.


This first conference of the LLA marked a long overdue, but still very confused, response to the wholesale destruction of democracy within Momentum, following Jon Lansman’s January 10 2017 bureaucratic coup4 - with the blessing, please remember, of the left’s holy trinity: Jeremy Corbyn, John McDonnell and Diane Abbott. They evidently wanted a tame, uncritical support group, which would not embarrass; a fan club that could be controlled, that could be marched up to the top of the hill and marched down again: ie, one with neutered democracy. They did not want an organised, democratic left that might endanger their not-so-clever electoral strategy of keeping quiet about controversial issues, in the vain hope of delivering a ‘better capitalism’ for the battered working class to endure, without tackling the way we are ruled - the constitutional monarchy system employed by the capitalist class in the United Kingdom. And look what a success that strategy has been.

Despite the organisational capacity of Momentum to mobilise numbers in election campaigns, discontent with its misleadership grew - peaking in July 2019, when its owner directly participated in the establishment’s ‘anti-Zionism equals anti-Semitism’ smear campaign. Lansman called for the expulsion of Chris Williamson, the only MP to stand up against the anti-socialist witch-hunt. In an “infamous tweet” (long since deleted) he demanded Williamson’s expulsion: “He has to go.”5 That was the final straw for many, of course, in Momentum’s treacherous downhill slide after Lansman organised the prompt removal of vice-chair Jackie Walker as soon as she came under Zionist attack. Solidarity - the watchword of working class strength - was not among Momentum’s ‘values’.

That level of treachery at the top of the Corbynite camp brought about a spasm of individual resignations and the withdrawal of local groups from Momentum - and a positive response from the Labour Representation Committee leadership to Labour Against the Witchhunt’s overtures for a joint initiative by existing left organisations. Two and a half years after Momentum was ‘reduced to a corpse’, the Appeal for a Labour Left Alliance was published in the name of LAW and the LRC - Jewish Voice for Labour and the Campaign for Labour Party Democracy could not be persuaded to come on board. Representatives from LAW and the LRC formed the LLA Organising Group (OG) - which then grew, with the addition of a delegate from each local Momentum or Labour left group that affiliated.

By the end of October 2019 (when the LRC executive committee got cold feet and withdrew6), the LLA was already up and running, with some 1,600 signatories (there are now nearly 2,000), 20 local groups (now 39) and preparations for its launch conference well under way.7


Around 130 delegates attended the Sheffield conference, representing 36 local and national Labour Left groups. Given that the prescribed delegate/signatory ratio was 1:3, the “nearly 2,000” signatories to the appeal were very much underrepresented. The pre-conference local meetings were generally attended by only a small minority of signatories, and there was little or no competition for delegate places. Nevertheless, the keenest activists turned up and set the new organisation in motion.

Thankfully, conference was not overloaded with top-table speakers, but we did welcome witch-hunt target and Labour expellee Jackie Walker, along with the newly reinstated ‘repeat non-offender’, NEC candidate Jo Bird. Jackie spoke of the “time of defeat” through which the left is living, and the “moral crusade to purge Labour of socialists”, which is a “cover for rightwing authoritarianism”. Jo Bird declared her allegiance to “freedom, justice and equality”, her support for the open selection of parliamentary candidates, and her adherence to members-led policy decided at sovereign Labour Party conferences.

London delegate John Bridge’s early point of order, that the constitutional options should be the first item of business, was (as the official report puts it) “well taken”, but “it was felt that at such short notice the conference agenda could not be so drastically re-ordered, and the original running order, with single-issue motions from individual LLA groups taken before lunch, was retained.”8

This meant the cart was put before the horse. The pinched time for debate also saw some very strange, often highly contradictory, positions adopted. The LLA will focus on “internal reforms” to the Labour Party. The LLA will focus “outwards”. The LLA wants to “convince” people of the “merits of Labour’s socialist credentials”. The LLA is committed to the restoration of the old, state-capitalist, clause four. The LLA is committed to the communist principle of “From each according to their ability, to each according to their need”. Such eclecticism aside, the LLA sees Brexit as a welcome liberation from the restrictive laws and regulations of the European Union. Its perspective now must be “a socialist vision of the UK” outside the EU. That’s right: not only ‘socialism in one country’, but royal socialism to boot! The motion proposing this from Cheltenham Labour Left was passed by 63 votes to 53 (there were five abstentions).

London was allowed five minutes to move our proposed constitution, but (like the proposals from Tees Valley and Dulwich) it was not debated as a coherent whole, as London wished. Instead, it was dealt with piecemeal, after conference voted overwhelmingly to adopt the procedural motion moved by the conference arrangement committee (CAC). This is how the official report describes the process:

Conference decided on what we believe is a very democratic (and unusual) way to decide our structures: the conference arrangements committee had prepared a composite constitution, which featured the ‘common ground’ of all four proposals and then presented the key differences in clearly defined ‘options’ that delegates could vote on … the proposers of the original four draft constitutions got ample opportunity to present the case for their particular vision and proposals for the LLA.

Not so. An amendment (which fell) to the CAC’s procedural motion, from Alan Pearson et al, argued, sensibly, that motions should not be composited without the consent of the movers - a complaint often levelled at Labour Party conference, when unwanted points are quietly removed under the veil of compositing. In the present case, parts of the London constitution were omitted and, in the so-called “common ground”, words were put into our mouth. For example: “Other political parties and their members/supporters are not eligible to become signatories to the LLA.” Those words, attributed to London LLA, appear nowhere in the London proposal, and lean in the opposite direction to our paragraph 1.6: “We support Labour as the federal party of the working class. All trade unions, cooperatives, socialist societies and leftwing groups and parties should be brought together in the Labour Party. Unity brings strength.” Just one instance of an issue which should be debated, not composited away.

Bad news, good news

A leading committee will not be elected at conference, so conference is not sovereign: LLA has a bifurcated authority. The collective leadership will owe its authority not to conference, but to the organising group (OG), which meets quarterly and is made up of delegates from affiliated local, regional and national groups. This is likely to have a conservative influence on the organisation’s initiatives.9

But there was some good news.

 Another conference is to be convened in six months time, when things can be changed.

 LLA’s democracy is not tainted by restrictions of gender balance or representation of special groups. Comrades should be selected for their politics.

 The representation of individual members is not trumped by the representation of large affiliated organisations like trade unions. Motion 4.2B (Dulwich), which proposed giving five conference delegates to affiliates with over 2,000 members, and prohibiting trade union branches from affiliating if their region or national office did so, was rejected.

 LLA stands for the “free movement of people” (LAW and Sheffield).

 LLA welcomes, “on all levels of the organisation, those who have been unfairly or unjustly suspended or expelled from the Labour Party” (common ground).

 “Decisions on all levels are made by consensus where possible and by simple majority where necessary (not counting abstentions)” (common ground).

 Defining the LLA as “broad left” and restricting affiliation to “bona fide” groups was rejected (Dulwich).

 Election of officers at conference, recallable only by a two-thirds majority of the OG, was also rejected (Brighton).

 As was the election of a steering committee by electronic ballot: ie, atomised voting without discussion (Tees Valley).

  1. . https://labourleft.org/about-us/constitution.↩︎

  2. . That was, of course, the anti-Marxist, Fabian clause-four version of state socialism, worked up by rightwinger Sidney Webb - under pressure from the rank and file following the Russian Revolution.↩︎

  3. . The London amendment had removed the additional words “or profit” from its own motion.↩︎

  4. . See ‘Reduced to a corpse’ Weekly Worker January 12 2017.↩︎

  5. . ‘Bitter fruit of appeasement’ Weekly Worker July 4 2019.↩︎

  6. . https://labourrep.com/blog/2019/10/30/the-lrc-and-the-labour-left-alliance.↩︎

  7. . ‘Recoiling from the challenge’ Weekly Worker October 31 2019.↩︎

  8. . https://labourleft.org/uncategorized/report-back-from-our-launch-conference.↩︎

  9. . The OG annually elects officers, who constitute a steering group “in permanent session” by email, etc. The OG can recall and replace officers.↩︎