The Weekly paper of the New Communist Party of Britain
Week commencing 9th December 2016

The battle for Momentum

THE NATIONAL Committee of Momentum met last weekend and voted that the organisation will have a proper founding conference early next year to give it a regular, democratically accountable structure, and that the meeting will be held on the basis of elected delegates from local groups.

That decision came in the face of fierce opposition by Jon Lansman, the hitherto leader of Momentum, who preferred a more virtual, on-line structure, with debate and voting both conducted on line on the basis of one-member-one-vote.

The vote for a regular real conference with delegates coming together in a meeting hall has been lambasted in a blog that has appeared in the press from Laura Murray, one of the national committee members and a close friend and ally of Lansman.

She accuses those who opposed his views of all being “Trotskyists” and of being bullies, and claims a massive divide between generations — between those who have been political activists for a long time and the young newcomers who have been inspired by Jeremy Corbyn and want a totally new, modern sort of structure.

This is exactly what Tony Blair claimed in the early 1990s when he introduced “New Labour”. He attacked and downgraded the existing local constituency Labour Parties and set about recruiting aspiring young careerists (yuppies) who would communicate almost entirely by phone. No more knocking on doors canvassing — that would all be done over the phone — no more, meetings, no more rallies, the annual conference changed from a democratic, delegate-based policy-making body to an American-style support-the-leader rally.

The kicking out of hard-working activists and the dropping of proper local canvassing led to a dramatic drop in the Labour vote, and the party’s policies became barely distinguishable from those of the Tories.

In her blog, Laura Murray lambasted Matt Wrack (though she incorrectly called him Nick Wrack) as a dangerous Trotskyist, forgetting to mention that he is the elected general secretary of the Fire Brigades Union (FBU), for the speech he made in October at the Labour Representation Committee (LRC).

In that speech he informed the delegates that the small clique around Jon Lansman had called a meeting of the Momentum steering committee — which is a sub-committee of the national committee — at such short notice (under 24 hours) that only a select few were able to attend to try to cancel the coming national committee meeting and turn the conference that the national committee was organising into a virtual on-line committee.

The experienced activists of the LRC were appalled. This is exactly the sort of underhand manoeuvring that the right-wing Blairites are notorious for.

Lansman was scheduled to speak at the LRC conference but sneaked out — reluctant to face real opposition.

The old fashioned, democratic centralist practices of the Labour movement, including real delegate conferences, are not a Trotskyist invention. They evolved over many generations and give all members a chance to debate issues at a local and branch level, to vote on these issues and to elect delegates who will represent them at conference. The conferences, if arranged properly, will give maximum time on the debating floor for those issues that are most contentious. Other issues such as support for a long list of good causes, which are not contentious, are dealt with quickly to give more time where it is really needed.

At the end of the debate a vote is taken and the whole organisation unites behind the chosen policies.

In an on-line debate no-one knows if someone is a real member, how many identities they may have, who is monitoring and editing the posts. Voters do not meet each other and talk. There is no accountability.

Modern technology is a great tool to use in campaigning, and it is certain that Marx and Lenin would have used it to the full if they could. But it is not a substitute for real, face-to-face meeting, debating and campaigning. It is a marvellous means of getting more people onto the streets in marches and rallies, but it is no substitute for those marches and rallies.

It is not surprising that Momentum is divided. The ruling class thought that with New Labour they had the workers’ party under their thumb. The rise of Corbyn has shaken them, a lot. It is inevitable that they will try to reverse this — and what better way than to turn Corbyn’s support structure into a Blairite structure!