Affiliation and a line change
Labour Party Marxists has formed a fraction and tweaked its approach to Momentum elections, Stan Keable reports
Labour Left Alliance’s Organising Group met on June 13. I was one of two comrades representing the newly affiliated Labour Party Marxists. We now have a handful of delegates and have therefore organised ourselves into a disciplined fraction.
Although the OG meeting lasted over four hours, with only a 10-minute break, it felt good to spend a Saturday afternoon on Zoom amongst two dozen comrades from LLA-affiliated groups from across the United Kingdom. Yes, delegates were present from Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. Political discussions were forthright but friendly. For all its limitations Zoom allowed us to see and hear each other clearly ... and you can mute your microphone and listen while you make a cup of tea without missing any of the discussion.
Making decisions by online voting worked pretty well too, and augurs well for the LLA’s second conference - to be held online over August 22-23. Sometimes raising your hand or displaying a thumbs-up symbol was sufficient to show a clear majority for ‘yes’ or ‘no’. When numbers were needed, the host comrade was able to quickly draft a pop-up voting form and, only a few seconds later, display the results.
The LLA is pursuing a “campaign for left unity”, particularly aimed at achieving a single left slate in the next round of the Labour Party’s national executive committee elections, to replace the now defunct Centre Left Grassroots Alliance. Since its foundation in 1998, the CLGA has produced a (mostly) winning slate of not-too-left candidates to represent the Constituency Labour Parties on the NEC. That pretty successful bureaucratic fix was broken when Jon Lansman decided to railroad through his Momentum slate. A divided left saw the right win all three vacant NEC seats.
CLGA slates used to emerge mysteriously from unreported horse-trading in ‘smoke-filled rooms’ between Momentum, the Campaign for Labour Party Democracy, Red Labour, the Labour Representation Committee and a few other acceptable soft left groups. Now, the LLA seeks its seat at the table, but not on any terms. The May 16 OG minutes reported as follows:
Our campaign for left unity must be based on principled politics, which we might call our ‘red lines’:
1. Any negotiations have to be conducted in a democratic and transparent manner.
2. This includes the method for NEC candidate elections, which should be conducted via ballots of the groups’ respective members.
3. We must continue to make a stand against the witch-hunt, past and present.
It was in the context of its campaign for ‘left unity on principled politics’ that the LLA wrote a series of questions to Don’t Leave, Organise (DLO) when it was launched in mid-April. The LLA asked whether it could affiliate to this lame outfit. At the May 16 OG meeting, DLO secretary Glyn Secker explained that groups cannot “affiliate” to DLO, but they can “join”. So, with his input, the OG agreed a motion to “join” and sent a letter asking to join - and, four weeks later, received a rather puzzling reply, delaying LLA’s request.
A moment of uncomfortable tension in Saturday’s OG meeting arose over the Catch-22 explanation offered by comrade Secker. DLO had delayed LLA’s application because it was unable to answer the “searching questions” about the nature of DLO, which was still being discussed - by those organisations which have been allowed to join. Incidentally, they include the bakers and firefighters unions. Naturally, this circular argument went down like a lead balloon. To resolve the matter, the OG decided to write to DLO again, stating that the questions were not linked to our application, and asking to join immediately, so we can participate in any discussions on the nature of DLO.
However, its reluctance is obviously political. I recall comrade Secker explaining the point to the LLA’s February 22 launch conference. While speaking against allowing Marxist groups like LPM or Socialist Appeal to affiliate to the LLA, he argued that “broad left” groups and trade unions “will not come” if we do. Well, conference disagreed, and here we are - LPM reps on the OG.
DLO was founded by three left groups: the Labour Representation Committee, Red Labour and Jewish Voice for Labour. When the LLA was on the drawing board in the summer of 2019, Labour Against the Witchhunt approached the same three groups. JVL declined to take part, while the LRC and Red Labour became founding organisations - but later withdrew. The LRC national executive committee’s explanation, in its October 26 statement, ‘Why the LRC is leaving the LLA’, was that the LLA was moving too fast. Presumably that does not apply to DLO, which describes itself as:
a broad left network launched on April 15 2020 after a period of disappointment and defeat for socialists in the Labour Party. Its aim is to restore hope to the many thousands of activists demoralised by the general election defeat in December 2019 and by setbacks for the left in the subsequent leadership and national executive committee polls.1
Comparing the aims of the LLA with those of DLO, one is left wondering what the difference is, and why the LRC, Red Labour and JVL felt the need to set up a separate ‘left unity’ project. A clue is in the word “broad” - which evidently translates, in this case especially, as a warning that anyone resembling a genuine Marxist is unwelcome in DLO. I doubt I’ll be proved wrong.
The LLA’s ‘red lines’ for the selection of left candidates for Labour’s NEC are not very red. This reflects the omission of important items from the LLA’s political aims - omissions which ought to be put right at its August conference. At present there is no mention whatsoever of socialism, for example. “Opposition to capitalism” and to “the ecological destruction of the planet” were proposed by LPM comrades at the LLA’s founding conference, but voted down, as was “replacing capitalism with working class rule and socialism”.
The omission of anti-capitalism and of socialism became evident when the OG discussed our position in relation to the elections to Momentum’s national coordinating group (NCG) - the LLA had sent a series of well chosen questions to NCG candidates, to see which ones might be supportable. After that discussion, the OG referred back to the steering committee a draft “minimum platform” for the LLA to back Labour NEC candidates, hopefully to add some socialism to it.
When it came to Momentum, the best answers came back from Red Flag’s Anticapitalist Platform, which said ‘yes’ to all of LLA’s test questions, and expanded well on each one. The only other candidate to give satisfactory answers was LLA signatory Syed Siddiqi.2
OG members were, unsurprisingly, scathing in their criticism of Momentum, but expressed widely varying estimates as to the likelihood that it can be democratised - from a 50:50 chance to zero. LPM had long ago written off Momentum (see Carla Roberts’ January 2017 post-coup article, ‘Reduced to a corpse’3). We stood aside from Momentum’s NCG elections, since - as our April 2018 statement, ‘NCG elections: no vote’,.4 makes clear - Momentum was already a “dead duck”.
So the LPM fraction in the OG voted against the LLA “encouraging” people to vote in the current Momentum NCG elections, and against endorsing any candidates, on the basis of not lending the organisation credibility. However, on reflection, and especially having listened to criticisms from the CPGB’s Provisional Central Committee, we have reconsidered our position. We see little point in standing ourselves, but we will support leftwing candidates who do. There remain disagreements within LPM’s fraction on the OG. Of course, they concern only matters of tactics. Our differences are entirely secondary, but we shall argue them out, openly if necessary.
There are those on the right in the LLA who believe Momentum is reformable. It is welcome then, that on this issue at least, we find ourselves with the majority (see LLA’s excellent ‘Can Momentum be reformed?’ online document5).
Either way, vote for principled leftwing candidates in Momentum, but do so with no illusions in Momentum.
Weekly Worker January 12 2017.↩︎
Weekly Worker April 5 2018.↩︎