The left which has flooded into Labour since Corbyn’s leadership campaign in 2015 now holds the balance of power within the Party. But what kind of left is this, and where is it going?
In the last issue we reported (bit.ly/2FwqstG) on the 23 April AGM of Lewisham (south London) Momentum. An amalgam of groups and individuals behind a slate headed by Aaron Bastani from Novara Media (although Bastani did not show up on the night) sought to oust the old steering committee, and eventually left the meeting hall to run their own “AGM” in a pub’s public bar.
The coalition organised “behind the scenes” with an apolitical campaign of misinformation about the record of the committee. And they slandered the politics of the AWL — calling us transphobes, Islamophobes, even antisemites.
These events are alarming because of the intolerance and dishonesty involved. But the fault-lines within the left are found more widely than Lewisham.
On one side, the established Lewisham committee is an alliance broadly committed to labour-movement democracy (it has held regular meetings where members vote on policies); to open debate and political education (Lewisham is one of very few Momentum groups to organise an educational debate on antisemitism); to critical thinking (the Lewisham group has been willing to criticise the Corbyn-McDonnell leadership); to freedom of movement and internationalism; and to active support for rank-and-file industrial action. It is part of the rational and radical democratic socialist pole within the Labour left.
Two factors, among others, mark the other side — an adaptation to and adoption of undemocratic practices, and a spectrum of nationalistic social-democratic policies.
Other factors include left antisemitism. We will deal with those at a later date.
That pole is growing, though, for now, limited to pockets in London and other major cities, in Labour’s youth movement, in Momentum. It overlaps with the soft left in the National Union of Students.
As a recent book by Liam Young (Rise) recounts, Corbyn’s appeal to young people was critical to his leader victories and his making Corbyn-led Labour electable.
Most of those young people came into a Party where democracy and discussion were at a low ebb. Instead of being guided, by Momentum and others, into becoming fully active in Labour, making healthy democratic structures, and educating themselves in debate within those, they were mobilised mainly for internal Labour elections (and campaigns in key marginals). And some of the young members became careerists, oriented to getting jobs in the movement.
For them, labour movement democracy was reduced to defeating the right in elections and replacing them in official posts.
In parallel, Labour’s left-wing youth have been increasingly pushed towards Stalinism. The 2016 The World Transformed conference was jointly hosted by the Morning Star, paper of the Communist Party of Britain. And, though Stalin is long dead, the CPB still represents politics which see a “socialist” society in Stalinist terms (state ownership, by a state in turn “owned” by a bureaucracy; no free workers’ organisations) and political strategy in bureaucratic, manipulative terms.
The top officials of the so-called left unions, such as Unite, are seen as the dominant left force in the Labour Party, and many young Labour lefts, and others, have adapted to that perceived power.
The virulently anti-Trotskyist Stalinist meme group Red London (linked to the blog ‘Check Their Minutes’) is in real life, outside social media, only a clique, but it was a core organising group in the attempted Lewisham coup.
This Stalinoid strand absorbs some Blairite attitudes. Like the Blairites, the Stalinoids say politics should exclude “boring” decision-making meetings or “niche” political discussions, but instead be about “cultural events”, not as a supplement but as a replacement, so what they patronisingly call “normal people” can join in.
A hard-core undemocratic and Blairite hostility to Marxist groups participating in Labour has been continued by Momentum and brought into the wider left. This attitude has also been adopted by ex-Trotskyists; thus, a few ex-members of Workers’ Power in Lewisham anxiously try to prove themselves as “good citizens” by joining in with witch-hunting of the AWL.
Labour’s youth, for the most part, strongly supported the “Remain” camp in the referendum. But Labour has not stood by the instinctively cosmopolitan attitudes of its youth support.
Since the Labour leadership gave up on freedom of movement in Europe, prominent individuals and groups have drifted towards, or codified, a nationalistic version of social-democracy, even if some, like Paul Mason, say they have not disavowed their Marxism.
Witness the CWU’s recent conference decision to vote down affiliation to the Campaign for Free Movement. General Secretary Dave Ward talked about how Labour would need first to defend jobs for British citizens in a post-Brexit climate.
Paul Mason has for sometime argued for Labour to curtail migration because (he says) the British working class fear it. Aaron Bastani has argued that freedom of movement is worth nothing inside the neo-liberal framework of the EU. The Morning Star has always been anti-Europe.
Some younger activists around Momentum call themselves Bennites. They have Tony Benn’s anti-EU politics, but not, unfortunately, his commitment to working-class struggles or radical democracy. People around Red London are at the extreme end of this spectrum of nationalistic social-democracy, with their liking for Stalin badges and so on.
For us, democracy is the oxygen of the labour movement, without which it suffocates. We want the de-facto bans on Marxist groups within the Party lifted, Party conference made sovereign, members given much more say over the decisions of Labour councillors, workers’ control with public ownership.
Against nationalistic social-democracy we stand for internationalism and the common interests of workers across borders.
Discuss with us, help the democratic, internationalist left have a stronger voice in the labour movement!