Labour’s broad army

LABOUR candidate Jim McMahon coasted to a comfortable 62 per cent victory in the Oldham West by-election last week — confounding all those right-wing Blairites who predicted that Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership of the party would make it unelectable. The threat of a swing to Ukip vanished as traditional Labour voters came home and gave Jim McMahon an increased majority compared with his predecessor, the late Michael Meacher.

Nevertheless the battle inside the Labour Party between the Corbyn supporters and the right-wing Blairites is intensifying over the role of the new organisation Momentum and the position of the thousands of “£3 supporters” who registered last summer to vote for Corbyn as leader but who are a very diverse bunch, including some old-fashioned and dogmatic Trotskyist entryists.

Momentum began as a movement that was intended to act as a bridge between Labour members and the vast army of left-wingers who had been driven out of the party in previous years by the Blairites and those young people on the left who had never yet engaged with the party but who had opposed it so long as it supported privatisation, austerity and wars but who are loosely defined socialists at heart.

But Momentum has struck predictable problems on finding some of its local groups dominated by Trotskyist sects who are set on trying to take over the party. Many existing long-standing members on both the right and the left of the party are resentful that the open structure of the party should give these newcomers real power in determining policy.

The existing structure of the party was created in the 1990s by Tony Blair, who sought to flood the party with aspiring yuppies and business-minded careerists whilst driving out the traditional factory- and council estate-based working class activists who were the original soul of the party. Now the right-wing is hoist by its own petard. But the Blairites kept policy-making under very tight control — removing this from the annual conference, which became effectively just a big rally and keeping it inside a closed committee of constituency, parliamentary and union reps.

Now Corbyn is opening up the democracy again, and involving members and supporters at all levels on policy making — and using social media to do it.

The very diverse army of left-wingers who helped to create the phenomenon of Corbyn’s rocket rise to the leadership are people who have for decades trudged along with Corbyn himself on peace marches, save the NHS marches, anti-racist and anti-fascist marches, anti-austerity marches, troops out of Ireland marches, anti-apartheid marches and so on.

They have been called “rent-a-mob” and “the same old faces”; but they are sincere people who are an essential part and parcel of the wider labour movement and have earned the right to have their voices heard. And now, because of the Corbyn phenomenon, they are aware that they are not a tiny minority fringe but represent the views of hundreds of thousands of working class people.

The Blairites have no right to try to gag them. Now it’s the Blairites who are crying blue murder because they now face the active opposition and possible de-selection measures that they themselves once used to drive the left out of the party.

Labour has always been a broad party and its position on democratic centralism has been confusing. The anodyne Co-op Party is affiliated as a party-within-a-party. The billionaire-funded rightwing Progress group is tolerated and acts as a party-within-a-party.

So what can Momentum, and the party itself, do? If left groups, including communist parties, could affiliate to the party it would be difficult for any single strand among them to dominate to try to take over the party.

These groups would be able to circulate their material and to be heard in debate on all the political issues. But once a vote of the whole party had been taken they would all have to accept it or shut up. It would be reasonable to insist that affiliated groups did not stand candidates against the party.

This would build unity and cohesiveness within the Left and foster joint work; members and affiliates would be able to exchange views and experiences and the party would be richer for it.

This will not, on its own, bring socialism, but it will raise the general level of working class consciousness and organisation that will be necessary eventually if we are to get rid of capitalism