The crisis in Momentum: two views

November 1, 2016 at 11:49 am (Andrew Coates, campaigning, democracy, labour party, left, political groups, posted by JD, reformism)

Image result for momentum

There is what may be a serious crisis developing in the pro-Corbyn Momentum group. We publish, below, two somewhat differing views.

Michael Chessum, a member of the minority on the Momentum Steering Committee, wrote on Facebook (28th Oct) :

What do you call it when an executive votes to abolish the legislature?

I don’t like using Facebook like this but somehow I don’t think this is going to be a quiet controversy anyway.

Momentum’s steering committee met tonight in a meeting that was called with less than a day’s notice, ostensibly to consider delaying the National Committee meeting which was due to meet on November 5th. I went to the meeting prepared to oppose the move (it’s already 6 months since our democratic structures met) and expected to find myself in a minority. The NC was due to discuss (among other things) the composition and processes for Momentum’s February conference, which would in turn decide our structures. In advance of it, local groups and regions had patchily met to discuss various proposals.

But my initial concerns were blown out of the water. Instead, the meeting not only voted to postpone the NC to December, but to bypass the NC entirely and make the decision that Momentum’s conference should effectively not happen (instead being a live streamed national gathering), and momentum’s structures decided by e-ballot. This was in a meeting called with 19 hours notice.

A lot of this was justified with an attitude of “it can’t possibly be undemocratic to let all members vote, so pack up your deliberative structures and democratically agreed processes”. Now I don’t know about anyone else who’s been around the Labour movement for more than 5 minutes, but I’ve heard that strain of logic before – and I dont mean from the left.

Now even if you think that literally all of the organisation’s decisions should be taken by OMOV (personally I favour a mixed system with both OMOV and delegate meetings; but I can quite see how with a complex conference structures debate you might want a delegate debate rather than an atomized online vote), but whatever your view, this is just an outrageous, farcical way for that decision to be made.

Momentum is fantastic – and so are many of the people who frankly found themselves on the wrong side on this – but I really worry about the left sometimes, and how some bits of it have absorbed the modus operandi of Blairism during the wilderness years.

(Republished from Jill Mountford’s Momentum Blog)

————————————————————————————————————————–

Andrew Coates takes a more sympathetic view of the Steering Committee majority’s position as well as providing some useful background (extract from a longer piece):

Momentum has become central to this democratic socialist project and therefore I, and others, are bound to react to the present dispute.

I do not want a fight between different tendencies, factions, and let’s be frank, groupuscules.

The present dispute centres on this, “Lansman, the founder of Momentum, was tonight accused of behaving in an “autocratic” manner after the organisation voted to delay a meeting of its national committee to December and that the vote on its founding principles in February 2017 would be using a one member, one vote system rather than a delegate system.” (Steven Bush New Statesman.)

This decision was opposed. The following resolution explains why,

“This meeting of the London Momentum censures the national Steering Committee for cancelling the meeting of the National Committee that was scheduled for 5 November and for agreeing a method of organising the national conference without waiting for the National Committee to discuss it.

“We do not recognise the legitimacy of the Steering Committee to make those decisions.

“We call for these decisions of the national Steering Committee on the conference and the National Committee to be rescinded and for the NC to proceed as originally scheduled on 5 November.”

Christine Shawcroft  explains why Momentum decided as they did.

These are the key sections of her article published today.

Members can vote for what ever kind of Momentum they want (Left Futures)

..what works as a temporary expedient when an organisation is first being set up and finding its feet is not necessarily what would work best in the long term. Like all new organisations, Momentum has had its teething troubles (as I run a day nursery, I know all about those!). The first people involved in trying to get it going were, by definition, more versed in the ways of the ‘old’ politics than the ‘new’. Working with enthusiastic young people with a different perspective on things has meant we’ve all been travelling along a learning curve. The temporary structures that were set up tended to be modelled on those of the Labour Party – decidedly not the new politics! Many local groups felt that a delegate structure tended to prevent grassroots participation by default.

The (temporary) Steering Group has therefore decided that the best way of involving all the members is to, well, involve them. Proposals for how we organise will be put out to the whole membership, any one of whom could also put their own proposals or amendments. There would still be a place for local groups and delegate structures, but final decisions on Momentum’s core politics, our code of conduct, and our democratic structures could be voted on by our greatest resource – the membership. A Founding Conference in spring next year could be live streamed and proposals voted for online.

On the Steering Group we feel that this could well answer the call for a new, inclusive and democratic way of doing things. And if the members disagree, and really want to ape Labour Party structures and have rigid decision making delegate bodies – well, it’s up to them. They can vote for whatever kind of Momentum they want: not only is that the new way of doing politics, that’s democracy!

Tony Greenstein has stuck is oar in and given the reasons for objecting to this idea.

Jon Lansman stages a Coup D’état in Momentum as the National Committee is cancelled by the Steering Committee.

The  Long Awaited Founding Conference of Momentum Will Be a Virtual Conference!

Describing this in typically restrained manner (“Coup D’état”)  Greenstein notes of Momentum’s way of evolving more permanent structures and policies,

Over the coming months, members will propose their ideas on Momentum’s aims, ethics, and structure. We will use digital technology to ensure that all members can be involved and shape Momentum’s future.”

This is the very opposite of democracy.” “It is designed to atomise individual members and undermine conference as the collective decision-making body of Momentum. It underlines the extent to which sections of the left have internalised the defeats of the past decades. It is Thatcher’s union ‘reforms’ writ large.

As somebody who respects (most, Greenstein being a major exception) individuals on both sides of this controversy (and if you look at the names who have backed Lansmann you will recognise that is not a straightforward division between ‘right’ and ‘left’), it would appear that there are merits in the majority’s decision.

It is also possible both to understand exasperation at it, and the way it was voted on.

At the same time many will harbour the feeling that some figures emerging in the local groups, including those with very very long histories of non- and even anti-Labour activism behind them, are not always greeted by people, like Christine, who have been Labour stalwarts for their entire lives.

One can also agree that  a meeting called with 19 hours notice is not the best forum for such a controversial decision.

But if a Conference is not to be the traditional sectarian bear pit there needs to be this kind of participation.

If it One Member One Vote (OMOV) was good enough to elect the leader of the Party it must have some virtues.

To repeat: I want to see a strong democratic socialist left, not the left of the party riven by factionalism. 

Update: Latest in the growing row.

Dear Comrade, 31 October 2016

Re: A meeting of Momentum National Committee delegates to discuss the present situation & consider solutions

Over the past few days we have all been involved in discussions with Momentum members about the concerns which have arisen from the decisions of the Steering Committee to cancel the meeting of the NC due to take place on 5 November and to go ahead with a national conference with online voting of all members.

You will also know the consternation these decisions have caused and the response from London, Eastern, Northern and South East regions.

Below is an email sent yesterday (30 October) to the Steering Committee members from Matt Wrack who is a member of the National Committee and Steering Committee. We echo those observations and comments.

We are extremely concerned that we overcome this current difficult division that has arisen as quickly as possible. Therefore, we are proposing to convene a meeting of as many NC members as possible in Birmingham next Saturday 5 November to discuss the recent events and, most importantly, consider ways to overcome the resulting differences and to move forward together.

There is no desire or intention to create any separate or parallel organisation within or in opposition to Momentum. We are all committed to building Momentum, as we are all doing at a local level. We simply want to address what we perceive to be a democratic deficit in its decision-making at the present time.

Please let us know if you can attend. If you can’t, is there someone you can send in your place?

We will send out further information about the venue and starting time along with a provisional agenda as soon as we can.

In solidarity,

Matt Wrack
Delia Mattis    ) London NC delegates
Jill Mountford   ) “ “
Nick Wrack      )  “ “
John Pickard    ) Eastern NC delegate
Steve Battlemuch ) East Midlands delegate
Michael Chessum ) Member of national Steering Committee

More:  Momentum chiefs accused of “coup” over adoption of all-member ballot Conor Pope. Labour List.

Further splits have emerged within Momentum amid claims of a “coup” after the introduction of reforms to the way it makes internal decisions.

The Corbynite group spent much of the weekend debating internal divisions over direction, structure and accountability while one senior member has forecast a “revolt for democracy” in the organisation, which recently marked its first anniversary.

The group’s founder, Jon Lansman, is at the centre of the row, having given his support to a controversial move to hand a vote to every Momentum member about how the organisation should function.

The latest tensions emerged over the decision to call an emergency meeting of Momentum’s small steering committee on Friday to discuss postponing a meeting of the much larger national committee, which had been scheduled for later this week.

See link for rest of the article.

9 Comments

  1. Jim Denham said,

    A thoughtful contribution from one Mike Phipps (who I don’t know) at Left Futures:

    http://www.leftfutures.org/2016/11/what-kind-of-momentum-conference/#more-47723

    • Andrew Coates said,

      Mike is a very long standing Labour Briefing comrade with good judgement.

  2. Mick said,

    Well well, so certain leftists can be bullying control freaks? Who’d’ve thunk it.

    Makes even their mentor, with his honoured ‘friends in Hezbollah’ look a level-headed guy. Labour ‘compliance team’ is there for a reason!

  3. Rilke said,

    This is what occurs when movements and groups adopt a self-proclaimed ‘Trotskyist’ approach. The group has to take control and advance the ‘correct’ programme as a form of executive, while all the while posturing as the ‘base’ or ‘core’ of the ‘movement’. Or, they must allow agitation and ‘education’ among the ‘mass’ or ‘base’ of the movement to be directed at gaining directive powers – a sort of manipulated left populism. The latter can always get out of control and veer towards workerist populist idiocy and the former can frequently cause endless splits, rifts and ‘leadership’ squabbles. This is exaclty where Momentum are at now. This occurs because Gramsci’s utterly necessary demand for socialist working class hegemony is largely ignored or misunderstood by the UK Trotskyist-inspired left. In other words, the battle for ideological hegemony, that is carried out by organic intellectuals of the left and cultural fighters, that would permit the democratic and political battles to become clear and achievable, has not been won. For Trotskyists, these battles are always fought out as it were ‘politically’, by which they mostly intend; among themsleves, conferences, trade union work, demos and meetings and so on (and increasingly, superficial blogs). This is all necessary of course, but the great chasm of ideologcal hegemony is alway lacking and so they are always thrown back onto a version of ‘committee’ or ‘council’ ‘communism’.
    Try talking about ‘ideological state apparatuses’, ‘cultural hegemony’ or the ‘battle for ideological supremacy’ at at Momentum meeting and you are usually shouted down as an elitist because simply ‘agitation’ and the fact that ‘people are using food banks’ is enough to ‘guarantee’ working class support.
    Dream on….the waking moment always is just around the corner.

  4. Joe Baxter said,

    • Jim Denham said,

      Thank fuck for that!

      • Glasgow Working Class said,

        They may have a democratic future in their own minds but the people will not vote for them.

  5. Glasgow Working Class said,

    Jim, I sent you sometime ago a link about an old bloke that was on the Kinder Transport to the UK. He has died aged 92.

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