Above: rank idiocy, opportunism and self-delusion on the supposed “left”
By Liam Conway
The Brexit vote was “a bitter blow for the establishment, big business, the international financial institutions, the rich and the politicians” says Charlie Kimber, writing for International Socialism Journal.
This gives the impression, ″with minor exceptions″, that the ruling class was united in their support for remaining in the EU, which is clearly a fantasy. Cut through the pseudo sociology in Kimber’s analysis and you are left with two points. The leave vote was primarily a revolt against the establishment and was not dominated by racism or hostility to migrants. What evidence does Kimber give for either of these conclusions?
For the latter a little. For the former, none at all. Kimber quotes studies by professors and commentary by Labour politicians to justify the purely Kimber view that the leave vote was anti-establishment. Kimber writes that Professor Jennings of Southampton University found that “workers perceived politicians as arrogant, boorish, corrupt, creepy, devious, loathsome, lying, parasitical, pompous, shameful, sleazy, slippery, spineless, traitorous, weak and wet.” But how is this specifically related to the EU? Most of the sleeze that dominated the press was rooted in the British Parliament, not the European.
Kimber says that the Leave vote “was driven by such factors as the MPs’ expenses scandal, the decades-long sense that the political parties are now all the same, the widespread contempt for the ‘pillars of society’, the lies told to launch the Iraq war and the resentment that comes from sensing that a tiny group at the top of society are making millions while you’re suffering — and they are also laughing at you.”
But Kimber produces no evidence at all that the groups he cites as most likely to vote Leave — the poorest and least formally educated in society — did so because of class hostility to the elites in Britain. And even if the poorest of the poor were bitter and chaffing at the bit because of their mistreatment by the British establishment, why would they blame the EU? Dislocation Jennings’ study is nothing to do with the EU, it is about dislocation with British politics and politicians. Where is the sociological research that shows workers voted to leave because of ″lies told to launch the Iraq War″? This is just political wishful thinking to justify the line of the Socialist Workers′ Party (SWP).
Kimber re-states the three reasons for SWP support for leaving the EU. The EU is a ″capitalist club″. The EU is a racist fortress. The EU is part of the imperialist world order. What Kimber fails to do is explain how leaving the EU gets you out of the ″capitalist club″, undermines racism within Europe against EU nationals, or weakens the imperialist world order. Kimber accepts that racist incidents have risen since the referendum but there is no mention of EU nationals, such as Polish workers, seriously considering returning to their homelands because of increased racism after the referendum. Kimber tries to get around the clear rise in racism and anti-immigrant sentiment by banging on about the contradictory or uneven nature of working class consciousness, but he only succeeds in demonstrating the uneven nature of his own consciousness.
I suggest the SWP, and Kimber in particular, re-read the Communist Manifesto where they will find Karl waxing lyrical about the progressive, as well as the reactionary, nature of capitalism: “The bourgeoisie keeps more and more doing away with the scattered state of the population, of the means of production, and of property. It has agglomerated population, centralised the means of production, and has concentrated property in a few hands. The necessary consequence of this was political centralisation.
“Independent, or but loosely connected provinces, with separate interests, laws, governments, and systems of taxation, became lumped together into one nation, with one government, one code of laws, one national class-interest, one frontier, and one customs-tariff.”
What response did Marx recommend for this tendency in capitalism to break down ″independent or loosely connected provinces (nations)”? Was it a reversal of the process? Not at all.
“This union is helped on by the improved means of communication that are created by modern industry, and that place the workers of different localities in contact with one another. It was just this contact that was needed to centralise the numerous local struggles, all of the same character, into one national struggle between classes.”
Kimber replaces solidarity with the interests of the working class with pandering to the current consciousness (of some) on the EU.
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Above: what sort of accent would he have had?
Guest post by Robin Carmody:
In October 1984, early in the season that ended with Bradford and Heysel, there was a major fire at Norwich City football ground. You’ve almost certainly never heard of it, because it didn’t happen during a match and so nobody was killed. But it very easily could have done; football grounds had been allowed to decay, partially out of a Tory belief that the conditions in which working class people had to live didn’t matter, so badly that Bradford, like Hillsborough, could have happened to multiple other sets of fans at multiple other times. It is, in fact, a wonder that they didn’t.
But imagine if that fire had actually killed as many Norwich fans as Bradford or Liverpool fans were killed in the disasters that did happen. How would the Left’s response have differed? Could it – would it – have responded with as much empathy and fellow feeling for the dead and the bereaved? Might elements of it, even, have felt that those who died were en masse class traitors, unworthy of equal levels of support?
The unfortunate situation that continues to prevail on much of the English Left is that when many Leftists say that they support working class people who do not speak RP, and the right of those accents to be heard and not discriminated against and perceived as a badge of stupidity, they only mean working class people in areas, and the accents of those areas, which were largely made by the industrial revolution and have experienced heavy non-white settlement since 1945. When it comes to working-class people in areas, and especially the accents of those areas, which were largely unaffected by the industrial revolution and have not had such levels of immigration (other than, in a much more concentrated period the reaction to which has now had disastrous political consequences, from Eastern Europe), they are often capable of the most obscene levels of prejudice, discrimination and the treatment of entire forms of working class speech as badges of stupidity.
It hurts much more to hear this sort of thing from the left in the same way that, even after Maxwell had withered away the paper’s soul and got rid of everyone from Pilger to Waterhouse, it hurt much more to see the Daily Mirror run covertly racist and anti-Semitic lies about the Beastie Boys in 1987, or to equate modern Germans with Nazis in 1996, than if it had been The Sun; you simply expect better, and expect more, from those who portray themselves as against prejudice and discrimination. Portrayal of people with, say, Scouse accents as thick – a partial factor in the Hillsborough disaster (and over-compensated for by the constant tabloid references to “Jamie” Bulger, a name never used by his family, as if they could only counterbalance the years of dehumanisation with an equally insulting faux-chumminess) – comes pretty much entirely from people who do not deny their prejudice, but flaunt it, boast about it, wallow in it. You don’t expect anything else from them. Portrayal of people with West Country or East Anglian accents as thick, on the other hand, comes disproportionately from people who make a great point of how immune they are from prejudice, how even-handed and equal their treatment of others is (eg leftie comedians on Radio 4). But in this field they completely abandon those rules and are, quite often, guilty of some of the most obscene, incontinent and just plain unpleasant abuse and mockery of other people I have ever come across. It is, by those criteria, far more actively disappointing.
And what makes it worse is that the prophecy is self-fulfilling. While accents with left cred, such as that of Liverpool, have strengthened and enhanced, those without are in the process of withering and dying. Worse, leftists from regions such as south-west England have, in many cases, internalised such rhetoric and believe it applies accurately to themselves; in my direct personal experience, they frequently do not speak up against negative stereotyping of their regions and actively join in with it themselves. Read the rest of this entry »
Above: debate on antisemitism between Cathy Nugent of the AWL and Richard Angell of Progress
The following resolution was adopted at the recent conference of the Alliance for Workers’ Liberty:
Antisemitism exists on the left.
This is not merely a question of the bigotries, chauvinisms, and prejudices which exist in society generally expressing themselves within the left, but essentially as aberrations within an otherwise progressive worldview. Rather, a number of ideas, positions, and analyses which have an antisemitic logic have become incorporated over a number of years into the “common sense” which predominates in some sections of the far left.
Contemporary left antisemitism combines older tropes of Jewish power (the politics August Bebel denounced in the 1890s as “the socialism of fools”) with a Stalinist-inspired “anti-Zionism”.
Some traditional antisemitic tropes and themes have become incorporated into certain ways of viewing Zionism and Israel.
Anti-Zionism and hostility to Israeli policies are not necessarily antisemitic. But most contemporary antisemitism expresses itself in the form of anti-Zionism and anti-Israelism, rather than as ‘traditional’ antisemitic racism.
Contemporary left antisemitism historically deracinates Zionism, blowing it out of all proportion. Zionism was a nationalist-separatist, and often romantic-utopian, movement that emerged in response to a real oppression and was given a mass character by the attempted genocide experienced by Europe’s Jews at the hands of the Nazis. It was always politically variegated. The revolutionary socialist tradition with which Workers’ Liberty identifies was always anti-Zionist, but it was an anti-Zionism conditioned, and in some ways tempered, by an understanding of the material roots of that nationalist impulse. It was an anti-Zionism which found it good to have Zionist units in the Red Army, a Histadrut presence at international communist congresses, and steps by the Bolshevik workers’ state to create an autonomous Jewish “homeland” within the territory of the USSR, and which saw the Zionists who then mostly described themselves as left-wing as indeed a mistaken tendency within the left, rather than as a phalanx of the imperialist enemy.
The Stalinist propaganda campaigns of the 1950s onwards, in which “Zionism” was interchangeable with “imperialism”, “racism”, and even “fascism”, cast long shadows in sections of the contemporary far left, including some groups which consider themselves anti-Stalinist.
Those shadows lead to Jews with an instinctive though maybe critical identification with Israel being demonised as “Zionists” (with the word having the same connotations as “racists” or “fascists”); to complaints of antisemitism (short of gross neo-Nazi-type acts) being automatically dismissed as contrived gambits to deflect criticism of Israel; and to Israel being seen as an illegitimate ultra-imperialist state, which must be wiped off the map and whose population, therefore, in the immediate term, it is right to boycott and despise.
[For more on the historical background and context, see: http://www.workersliberty.org/node/26603]
While recognising left antisemitism as a real political phenomenon, we also recognise that allegations of antisemitism may sometimes be exaggerated, instrumentalised, or even fabricated for factional ends. This is true of any allegation of any bigotry or prejudice. That does not mean that the bigotry or prejudice is not real, or that the default response to any such allegation should be to question the motives of the plaintiff.
Moreover, there may be a distinctly antisemitic component in play when allegations of antisemitic speech or conduct are challenged as having been raised in bad faith and for an ulterior political motive. This was particularly visible in the controversies triggered by Livingstone and Walker.
Did the right wing ‘weaponise’ antisemitism in the Livingstone and Walker controversies? In one sense, no (in that some of them had a long record of raising the issue of antisemitism). In one sense, yes (in that they had an open goal and would have been fools not to have taken the opportunity). But such considerations have nothing in common with the way in which supporters of Walker (and Livingstone) raised the allegation of ‘weaponisation’, i.e. as a means to delegitimise all criticism of Walker (and, in some cases, of Livingstone as well).
We are for allegations of antisemitism, as with allegations of sexism, racism, etc., being investigated thoroughly, in a way that is sympathetic to the plaintiff and which affords all parties due process.
Our response is based on political education, debate, and discussion. We cannot challenge a prevailing common sense, and replace it with a better one, by means of bans and expulsions. That discussion must be conducted in an atmosphere of free speech, where activists in the movement are able to speak freely on sensitive issues such as Israel/Palestine, and those raising concerns around antisemitism are not accused of being Zionist provocateurs.
In the Labour Party, we argue for the implementation of the recommendations of the Chakrabarti Report.
Some of the recommendations contained in the Chakrabati Report are vague, and the political rationale which underpins them is not always clear. A lot of the recommendations focus heavily on procedural matters. It would be surprising if the Report did not suffer from such limitations.
But the Report does begin to raise the political issues which we want to see discussed and provides a certain official ‘stamp of approval’ to opening up such discussions. In both the Labour Party and trade unions (especially Unite and the UCU, even though the latter is not an LP affiliate) we should therefore encourage the use of the Report as a starting point for promoting discussion about antisemitism and arguing for a new political common sense about antisemitism based on the following ideas:
A historical understanding of the roots of nationalist ideas within Jewish communities, and the impact of the history of the 20th century in shaping Jewish people’s consciousness.
Zionism should neither be placed beyond criticism nor demonised.
As we challenge the confusion on the left and in the broader labour movement about Zionism and Israel, and the antisemitic content of some critiques of Zionism and Israel, we will advance our own politics on the Israel/Palestine conflict, i.e.
Solidarity with the Palestinians against Israeli occupation; a two-state settlement in Israel/ Palestine; workers’ unity across the borders; solidarity not boycotts.
Amendment not voted on (i.e. it goes forward for further discussion)
Contemporary left anti-Semitism involves a process of signification that defines the Other somatically – i.e. it marks out a group of people in relation to Israeli Jewishness and/or Zionist Jewishness – and assigns this categorised group of bodies with negative characteristics and as giving rise to negative consequences. This Jewish Other is conflated with a particular and singular understanding of Israel and Zionism and a notion therein that the Jewish collective has uniquely world domineering and despotic power. Unlike traditional and historical anti-Semitism, contemporary left anti-Semitism considers it possible and necessary for individual Jews to break away from the negative characteristics and consequences of Israeli Jews and Zionist Jews by denouncing any affiliation to them and to Israel and Zionism.
With racism in general, both real and imagined physical and/or cultural characteristics have historically been, and continue to be, signified as an innate mark of nature and ‘race’. Similar to all other manifestations of racism, with contemporary left anti-Semitism it is not difference per se that matters but the identification of this difference as significant. In this sense, whether consciously or not, those engaged in contemporary left anti-Semitic discourse and practices are engaged in racist discourse and practices. The demand (often in disguise) that the Israeli Jewish nation-state must be undone because it is uniquely despotic (comparable only to fascist Germany and/or apartheid South Africa) – a judgement and a demand not made of any other nation-state – is racist. It is racist because real and imagined cultural characteristics have been and are signified as an innate mark of the nature of Israel and Zionism (and of the cultural ‘race’ of Jews associated with Israel and Zionism), which are deemed especially deplorable and negative in characteristics and consequences.
Much academic theorising about ‘race’, racism and capitalism since the 1960s in Britain and North America sources racism solely to colonialism, rather than also recognising racism’s co-constructed relationship with the rise of nationalism and the nation-state, and some of its pre-capitalist origins. The consequences of this colonial model of racism are: one, limited to no recognition of racism beyond what “white people” have done and do to “black people”; two, intellectually crediting the controversial notion that Zionism is an instance of racism (as “bad, white and rich Jews” oppress “good, poor and brown Arabs and Muslims”); and three, downplaying anti-Semitism.
And add at end:
The two states settlement on pre-1967 borders is the only consistently democratic and realistic resolution to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. The overwhelming majority of both the activist and academic Left have adopted various forms of one state / one shared space solutions on the basis that the ultimate question is one of Palestinian redress and justice and/or “facts on the ground” have made a meaningful two states settlement impossible. For many in this majority camp, their politics is well-meaning and borne from despair. We need to patiently and sharply reason and debate against the varied proposals for one state / one shared space – exposing and condemning the implicit logic to undo the Israeli Jewish nation-state – while nuancing our argument as not altogether diametrically opposed: since we are for two states so that one day we might see one shared cooperative space between Jewish and Arab workers democratically emerge.
2017 Nightmare: Presidents Le Pen, Trump and Putin (Financial Times): big chance for the left?
In 1928 the Stalinised Communist International (Comintern) adopted the “Third Period” line which led the German Communist Party to denounce the Social Democrats as “social fascists” and dismiss the threat of Hitler taking power: it said “fascism” was already in power, and another form of “fascism” could thus be no new threat; and anyway, “after Hitler, our turn next!”.
The reality of Nazi rule led the Comintern to drop the Third period approach in 1934 and seek alliances with bourgeois forces via the so-called “Popular Front.”
Historical analogies are never 100% accurate, but the similarities with the Third Period were apparent as the Communist Party of Britain and their follow ‘Left Exit’ fantasists tried to give the Tory/UKIP dominated Leave cause a left-wing figleaf during the referendum campaign. This has led to some extraordinary Daily Mail-style editorials in the Morning Star (the CPB’s de facto mouthpiece) culminating in a shameful attack on parliamentary democracy and the campaigners who brought the High Court case forcing the Tories to acknowledge parliamentary control over Brexit.
The CPB and Morning Star have continued their lurch towards Third Periodism in their coverage of the US Presidential election. An article in August accused Clinton of “demonis[ing]” Trump and praised his “sensible comments about the anti-Russia, anti-Putin hysteria rampant among policy-makers of both parties.”
The suspicion that the Morning Star‘s formal neutrality between Clinton and Trump (in itself a respectable enough stance, taken for instance by most Trotskyists) wasn’t in reality quite so “neutral” as all that, has been confirmed by todays editorial, which (after a few words about Trump’s racism and misogyny) includes the following:
Some commentators highlight Trump’s different tone taken in his acceptance speech, with platitudes about being president for all Americans, as though willing Trump to come into line.
This desire regards political normalcy as the target for all politicians, although it lies in tatters today.
Trump’s election isn’t alone in pulverising this discredited thesis. Britain’s referendum decision to leave the EU has similar aspects.
Both campaigns were derided by Establishment politicians and liberal media outlets from the outset.
Those whose votes secured the election of a self-styled outsider as US president and said No to membership of an unaccountable, institutionally neoliberal, bureaucratic EU superstate were demeaned as racists, xenophobes and idiots by liberal elites unable to believe that their conventional wisdom had been spurned.
Polling organisations’ failure to foresee the result of either phenomenon illustrates an inability to identify or empathise with those who have had enough and want something better.
There will certainly have been racists, xenophobes and idiots involved in both campaigns just as there were backing Clinton and Remain.
Insulting voters for their temerity in disagreeing with a business-as-usual agenda in these terms breeds resentment and makes political revolt more likely.
When defamatory name-calling is conjoined with efforts to dress up the Establishment choice — whether Hillary Clinton or the EU — as the “progressive” alternative, self-delusion takes over and assumes Emperor’s New Clothes dimensions.
Millions of working-class US voters have seen closed factories, lost jobs and plummeting living standards as their material basis for voting Trump because of his pledge to overturn free trade deals championed by Clinton.
Will Trump honour this pledge or be able to carry it through Congress?
Time will tell, but the possibility exists that those who backed him on this issue will mobilise seriously to insist that there is no backtracking.
The genie of working-class revolt, albeit scarred with unattractive features, is out the bottle and may not be so easily restrained again.
Cross-party neoliberal consensus is crumbling in the US, in Britain and across Europe too, which demands a socialist intervention.
Or, to put it another way: “After Trump, our turn next!”
(NB: I should add that I don’t disagree with the need to understand why workers are attracted by ultra-right wing racist populism as exemplified by Brexit and Trump, and to then argue for a socialist alternative – but I do object to the stupid and dangerous delusion that these movements are somehow progressive and good for the left).
Unanimous Statement from Momentum’s Steering Committee
The Steering Committee recognises and regrets the discontent and frustration felt by Momentum members in recent days. Momentum’s democratic structures were always intended to develop. Unfortunately, this summer’s leadership election delayed that development, with all our energy being diverted into ensuring Jeremy Corbyn’s reelection.
The Committee recognises the need for a greater level of accountability and transparency from the leadership and administration of the organisation and will work to deliver that over the coming weeks.
Our path to democratisation, through our first National Conference in the new year, has not been sufficiently effectively communicated, leading, at times, to a breakdown in trust between different sections of our movement. There was not enough consultation and discussion with the diverse political and organisational traditions that exist in our movement. Pluralism is our strength, and all views must be properly engaged with.
After further discussion, the Steering Committee has agreed unanimously the following path for Momentum’s democratisation, which places unity, pluralism and member-control at its heart.
The National Committee, postponed from this Saturday, will take place on 3 December. We will ensure that this meeting is properly representative, including new elections for our liberation strands where necessary. A plan for ensuring this will be submitted and approved by the Steering Committee at the latest by 11 November.
A further National Committee meeting will be held in January before our Conference in February. Our Conference, involving all members of Momentum, groups and affiliated organisations, will decide our organisation’s long-term structure.
Taking into account the strong views on both sides of the OMOV (one member, one vote) vs. delegate for Conference votes, the Steering Committee has agreed on a recommendation to the National Committee of a suitable format. There will be both a physical delegates conference to thoroughly debate proposals submitted from the membership, and then OMOV voting on the proposals in the period after the conference. The details of this procedure will be determined over the coming weeks.
We know all levels of Momentum are committed to a truly inclusive and democratic structure and will make it succeed over the next few months.
H/t: Joe Baxter
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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.
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.
Statement introduced by Alex Rowell, October 12, 2016
A statement signed by over 120 Palestinians condemns “whitewashing” of Syrian regime by “activists whom we once respected”
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Jill Mountford (writing on her Momentum blog) on the removal of Jackie Walker:
Momentum Steering Committee’s removal of Jackie Walker as Vice Chair – how I voted and why (part 1)
On Monday 3 October I voted at the Momentum national Steering Committee to remove Jackie Walker from the position of Vice Chair.
Jackie was elected by the Steering Committee to serve as Vice Chair, with Jon Lansman as Chair, in February. In fact, originally the two of them were appointed only as Chair and Vice Chair of the Steering Committee, not of Momentum as such (this was made quite explicit), but somehow over time these positions morphed into supposedly leading the organisation as a whole.
After Jackie’s removal, she remains a member of the Steering Committee without portfolio (she is not the BAME rep; Cecile Wright is), as well as a member of the National Committee which elected her to the Steering Committee (on the National Committee she is one of the two LRC reps).
I want to make two arguments: one about the left and antisemitism, which I will focus on in this article; and another about the problems with the way Momentum is run and its general political orientation, which I will touch on here but also publish something specific about in the next few days.
Why I voted to remove Jackie; her defence and what it tells us
For a longer article I would recommend on the politics of this controversy, focusing on antisemitism, see here. I would like to quote it at length to explain my position:
“Walker said Holocaust Memorial Day, 27 January, which principally commemorates the Nazis’ planned, industrialised mass murder of Europe’s Jews, should also refer to other genocides. In fact, it does; and, anyway, as someone pointed out, the objection is like going to a funeral for a murdered family and complaining that the ceremony does not give equal attention to all other murder victims. Or like responding to “Black Lives Matter” by saying it should be “All lives matter”.
“Walker also questioned people being concerned about Jewish schools having to organise extra security, saying that all schools have security. After such events as the murders at a Toulouse school in 2012, by a killer who said he did it just because the children were Jewish, this was at the very least obtuse.
“Violent antisemitic incidents in Europe ran at about 150 a year in the 1970s and 80s; since the 1990s they have risen to between 500 and 1,000 a year. In France, for example, 51% of all the racist acts recorded in 2014 targeted that country’s 0.8% minority of Jews.
“Walker’s response, and that of many of her supporters, has been to say that the issue of antisemitism is being “exaggerated for political purposes”.
“The response shows an underlying problem. When other victims of prejudice complain about racism, anti-Muslim behaviour, sexism, homophobia, the first reaction is to examine the cause of complaint.
“Too often, and including on the left, the first reaction to complaints of antisemitism — unless they are about gross neo-Nazi-type acts — is to impugn the motives of the complainers. They are assumed to be powerful people with no real grievance, using the complaint to deflect criticisms of Israeli government actions…”
Now, I’m not saying Jackie’s statements were clearly antisemitic; but they were statements which Momentum could and should reasonably be concerned about when they were made and defended in public by its Vice Chair. They show serious insensitivity and even indifference to questions of antisemitism (which is not changed by the fact that Jackie has Jewish background). The idea that something is either out-and-out racist or there can be no issue at all makes no sense.
To be clear, I’m not into the common habit on the left of condemning people on the basis of half-formed thoughts or off-the-cuff remarks with no opportunity to clarify. The point here is that Jackie has defended her comments, that she has repeated them very publicly and that they form part of an ongoing pattern – note her comments about Jews and the slave trade earlier this year.
Jackie was not removed from the Steering Committee, let alone suspended or expelled her from Momentum. Deciding to remove her from a position which she was originally elected to by the same committee seems to me perfectly reasonable and proportionate.
Free speech on Israel?
To continue quoting from the article above:
“Supporters of Walker picketed the Momentum committee meeting with placards saying “Free speech on Israel”. Momentum was doing nothing to limit her free speech… And none of Walker’s complained-about statements mentioned Israel.
“The Facebook post for which Walker was suspended from the Labour Party in May this year (then quickly reinstated) did not mention Israel either: it complained about insufficient attention to African suffering through the slave trade, and said: “Many Jews (my ancestors too) were the chief financiers of the sugar and slave trade which is of course why there were so many early synagogues in the Caribbean”.
“Walker explains this as a meditation on her personal background. It is hardly just that. In any case, it is not about Israel.
“But when Jews complain about antisemitism, they get the reply: “You are just trying to stop criticism of Israel”.”
The statement Momentum put out after the meeting, explaining its decision, is weak on at least two levels.
Firstly, it fails to say that we oppose Jackie’s suspension (as opposed to potential expulsion) from the Labour Party. I proposed including this, but lost.
Secondly, and somewhat bizarrely, it fails to even seriously attempt to educate anyone on the political issues involved, in particular the relationship between the insensitive and politically bad remarks Jackie made and the problem of failing to deal with antisemitism and even perpetuating antisemitic ideas. This is typical of the way Momentum nationally is often more concerned with political positioning and manoeuvring than stating things clearly, promoting discussion and educating the movement.
At the time of the controversies leading to the Chakrabarti Inquiry, there was – at my instigation – debate in the Steering Committee about antisemitism. In the end, despite repeated arguments, no statement was issued because people were afraid of political controversy on various sides.
This time I also lost the argument for including a statement that Jackie was not being removed for her views on the Israeli state and Zionism per se. While I think her views on those questions are linked to her weaknesses on antisemitism, I think it was also important to draw the distinction. (I thought we had agreed to include this point, but it was not in the final statement. I may have misremembered or it may have been agreed but not included, deliberately or not.)
There have been some suggestions that I and others voted the way we did because of pressure from the Labour right and from the leadership of Momentum, in particular Jon Lansman – ie that it was not a genuinely believed and principled stance, but an act of opportunistic positioning. This is wrong, but also simply makes no sense.
I felt no serious pressure at all from the right of the Labour Party or the right of Momentum – not because there was no attempt to exercise pressure, but because it did not bother me. I did feel pressure from Jackie’s supporters on the left, in particularly because I was concerned about taking a position on this in the context of Jackie’s suspension by the party. Obviously, no one is under obligation to believe me when I write that. However, my record in Momentum and the movement speaks for itself.
I have consistently criticised the undemocratic, politically conservative, accommodating-to-the-right way Momentum operates and sometimes made myself quite unpopular in doing so. The idea I suddenly became a follower of Jon Lansman, after months of criticising and clashing with him about Momentum’s functioning and direction, is ludicrous; though less ludicrous than the idea I am trying to placate the Labour right, who have expelled me from the party for being a class-struggle activist and revolutionary socialist!
I have a lot more to say about that, but will do it in my second article on this controversy, to be published over the weekend or early next week.
|Picket by some idiots in support of Walker outside yesterday’s meeting
Yesterday’s meeting of the Momentum Steering Committee voted to remove Jackie Walker as Vice Chair, and issued the following statement:
Momentum’s Steering Committee has voted, seven to three, to remove Jackie Walker as its Vice Chair, a position it elected her to. She remains a member of Momentum and its Steering Committee.
Jackie’s actions at Labour Conference, in her subsequent Channel 4 interview, and by not understanding concern caused by her statements, have led the Steering Committee to view her behaviour as irresponsible and lose confidence in her as Vice Chair.
Having read reports of what Jackie Walker is alleged to have said, listened to the leaked video, and heard Jackie’s version of events, the Committee does not regard any of the comments she appears to have made, taken individually, to be antisemitic. However, the Committee does consider her remarks on Holocaust Memorial Day and on security of Jewish schools to be ill-informed, ill-judged and offensive. In such circumstances, the Committee feels that Jackie should have done more to explain herself to mitigate the upset caused and should have been careful about statements on this and related subjects, whatever her record as an anti-racist, which the Committee applauds.
Momentum is concerned that footage of a training session was leaked to the press. The leak is unacceptable and undermines much needed political education. Momentum also calls on Labour to apply the principles laid down in the Chakrabarti report in its investigation of Jackie. On the basis of the evidence the Committee has seen, Jackie should not be expelled from the Labour Party.
The Shiraz view is that this was the right decision, but the statement is an attempt to satisfy everyone, which will in fact satisfy no-one.
It fudges the crucial political issue (Walker’s now self-evident antisemitism) and, if taken literally, is illogical:
As in: “Her comments were offensive but not antisemitic”: but who specifically was offended by them, and why? And if the comments were not antisemitic, why would anyone be offended by them?
And if her comments were not “individually” antisemitic, does it mean that taken collectively, they might be antisemitic, but the Momentum Steering Committee doesn’t want to go there?
According to this statement, Walker’s only misdemeanours have been not to have apologised sufficiently, and not to have explained in more detail what she really meant. Our view is that the problem is just that: what she really meant.
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