Backward Momentum

Jon Lansman’s organisation is trying to reinvent itself. But, looking at the contending factions, Daniel Harvey is convinced that the whole project is bankrupt

The Forward Momentum faction has put forward its proposals on what it sees as the main objectives within Momentum itself and the wider Labour Party. This is after two meetings of delegates, which are reported by the Alliance for Workers’ Liberty as being “reasonably open” and democratic, in spite of a number of ‘founding members’ getting a vote without being elected by any branch or caucus in the organisation.

They are now committed to a number of left-sounding positions. These include the “fight for socialist policies”, including the “Green New Deal”, “public ownership”, rolling back privatisation in the national health service, “advancing migrants rights” and repealing “all anti-trade union laws”. They are calling for a “united left slate” for the Labour national executive elections and “greater democracy” in the party. The latter includes support for the open selection of candidates.

However, what is significant is what is not included in this set of proposals: you might think that the primary motor, if you really want a “member-led process” which will “put members in charge”, would be a sovereign conference. But even the proposal for a Momentum conference able to make binding decisions was voted down, with 19 delegates for and 37 against. Also blocked was a proposal for regional all-member meetings, which could discuss policy and elect members to the Momentum national coordinating group (NCG).

Even more telling about the bureaucratic nature of this group is that the vote for a sovereign Labour Party conference was passed overwhelmingly, with 50 votes in favour and only four against - yet this crucial demand is not included anywhere in the Forward Momentum document. Other positions voted for, but not included, were the demand for “democratic ownership of energy and finance” and the demand that councillors should “fight cuts”. The proposal for “advancing migrants rights”, including freedom of movement, was passed, but a third of delegates opposed it. This was originally not included in the document and then added in later.

Of note is the position of the AWL in Momentum, including its own smaller ‘faction within a faction’, Momentum Internationalists, which has been attracting varying degrees of hostility. This has come from both the bureaucratic Lansmanite ‘office’ faction, Momentum Renewal, as well as from other leftwing activists and those pulling the strings in Forward Momentum.

An example of this is the disqualification of Ruth Cashman from standing for election as a representative for Forward Momentum on the NCG, on the grounds of her refusal to condemn an Islamophobic article written by the AWL’s founder, Sean Matgamna. One of my articles from 2015 - written about a joint ticket between her and a member of Workers Power in Left Unity - was presented as evidence. I asked her for clarification on her stance towards this article at the time and she was emphatic: “I do not distance myself from Sean Matgamna, the article or the AWL’s position on the rise of reactionary, politicised religion and the growing role of religion in world politics” (‘Meaningless noise’ Weekly Worker March 12 2015).

She has since slightly softened her position. On the one hand, she says of her refusal: “I said no, in the strongest terms. It is laughable to imagine I could have answered in any other way - you don’t throw comrades under the bus whenever someone with an axe to grind asks you to.” On the other hand, now she says that “I wouldn’t have phrased the article the way it was phrased. Not because the argument or intention of the piece is racist, but because it obviously has been offensive to some, and the political argument of the article gets lost as a result.”

At the same time, fellow AWL member Sacha Ismail complains at the inclusion of two candidates on the Forward Momentum slate - Sonali Bhattacharyya and Mick Moore - “whose election publicity made witch-hunting Workers’ Liberty one of its central planks”. It is an irony that members of the AWL - who have been giving ideological support to those witch-hunting other socialists in the Labour Party over spurious accusations of anti-Semitism, like veteran Israeli socialist and founder of Matzpen Moshé Machover and anti-racist campaigner Jackie Walker - have now become in turn victims of a witch-hunt. It seems the witch-hunters are now the witch-hunted.

In any case, it looks like the opposition in Momentum is hamstrung before it has even left the gate. It is already watering down its own positions, and has a group driving it that has become toxic due to its social-imperialism and support for the attacks on the genuine left in the Labour Party. It does not look like there is much hope at the moment for a reinvigorated Momentum that can play any useful role in the post-Corbyn period.