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.
A list of petty bourgeois wankers, from ‘All That Is Solid…’
On the Far Left’s General Election Campaign
As well as being a pretty weird general election, 2015’s will see a record number of far left candidates standing. As if to underline the peculiarity of the campaign, even anarchists are standing. So let’s have a bit of a burrow into the lists and see what it says about the far left party family.
No one in a revolutionary socialist or anarchist outfit now would say women’s rights and the question of gender are distractions from the hard graft of knuckling down and prosecuting the class struggle. At least aloud, or for public consumption. As self-declared representatives of the most class conscious sections of the British proletariat, they’re the best fighters for women’s liberation. The implementation of their programmes would strike a permanent and irreversible blow for equitable gender relations. We’re a long way off from that happy day, however. So how do women fair as a percentage of far left candidates? I make it 52 out of the 223 listed so far. That’s 23.3%. For TUSC specifically of 131 seats contested women are standing in 34 of them, or 25.9%. What to say about this. The LibDems say that just 26% of their candidates are women. Annoyingly, comparable figures for the Tories and Labour are hard to come by (I don’t have the inclination to run through every single constituency). But of interest 29 for the former and 54 for the latter have been selected for the parties’ top 100 winnable seats. Among all party selections done up until last November – including incumbents – it was 73-27 men-women. Of new candidates, Labour had selected 39% women, the Tories 31%, LibDems 30%, Greens 37%, and UKIP 12%.
Pretty poor for the far left as a whole to be outdone on women’s representation by all bar UKIP, and to be less representative than the field of candidates as a whole. However, the far left should be cut a bit of slack, but only a little. They can only stand the activists they have on the books, and in the Socialist Party’s case – who’ve provided the bulk of TUSC candidates – the party comprises one quarter to one third women. To be fair, during my membership they did encourage women to come to the fore and its leading body, the executive committee, had a slight female majority. Still, the same searching questions about why more women aren’t involved have to be asked.
The second thing I want to look at is how much the election campaign is a party building opportunity. We know that far left candidates generally get pretty poor results – see last year’s European election and 2010’s outing, for example. To try and build a head of steam behind your campaigns, you require consistent electoral activity in a given area and a long-term strategic plan. Can we see evidence of that here? Last time, the far left contested 120 seats with 135 candidates. Have they built on this? Well, 92 of our candidates are standing in seats that were previously contested, which is 41%. This doesn’t look too good but do remember that TUSC has massively upped its electoral game. 53 were contested in 2010, 26 of which were under TUSC’s banner (I’ve included here the four Socialist Alternative candidates). Quite why the 17 that previously had TUSC haven’t been so visited this time is a mystery. Also, only 15 candidates are standing in the same seat as 2010, ten of which are TUSC. Sitting MPs aside, I expect the proportion in the bigger parties is about the same or even lower. However, when you’re in the business of building a radical alternative consistency and continuity between elections is important provided the candidate has been working the seat hard in the meantime.
All this begs the question of why. I doubt the CPB, SEP, CL, and WRP central committees sat down to determine their general election intervention believing a general breakthrough lies just over the horizon. Sure, like the SPGB, AGS, Workers’ Party, SSP, and Class War, it’s an opportunity to get the organisation and your work known. You’re taking advantage of a wider interest in politics than is hitherto the case. But is it worth it? Taking 2010 as our benchmark, polling scores were more often beneath one per cent than not. However, the far left tend not to measure success in terms of votes scored – as anyone familiar with post-election write ups by those concerned will tell you. It’s about the breadth of the message, of the leaflets distributed, papers solds, contacts made, and recruits who’ve signed up. There is also the experience of taking part in the campaign itself. To be involved and live in the micro universe of a campaign can be a gratifying experience, even if you don’t win. It’s an occasion of forming close ties, of working together collectively around a clearly definable common objective, of deepening one’s relationship with the group. It’s the stuff fond memories are made of. Or can be, provided it’s not deeply dysfunctional and characterised by fraying friendships. So for a small party, it’s a bonding experience, of toughening up collective discipline and identity. But it’s a risk. For newer recruits the poor result can be an occasion for disillusion and burnout.
TUSC is qualitatively different. While the general election is an occasion for party building on the Socialist Party’s part (and, to a lesser extent, the SWP’s), the objective is to work TUSC up into an electoral force that will be taken seriously over the longer term. It’s their contribution toward the new workers’ party they believe is a necessity since Labour stopped conforming to what they think such a party should look like. Implicitly, TUSC exists to show an electoral life for leftist class politics outside Labour is possible. However, there are a number of problems.
As we know, the Green Party has grown massively since last summer, a growth reflected in its spread of candidates. TUSC’s challenge, however, is not a result of organic growth. As far as I can tell, the SP is roughly the same size it was five years ago and the SWP, of course, are much diminished. Nor has there been an upsurge of active opposition to never-ending austerity that can power TUSC’s 100% no cuts message. Why then such an effort which, lest we forget, is also supported by about 600 local council candidates?
There are two things going on here. SP cadre are keen to flag up how much more advanced TUSC is compared to UKIP after the first five years of its existence, while accidentally on purpose forgetting the last 25 years of the SP standing against Labour under a variety of labels. TUSC appears to be a project that has stalled. The 2010 results were down on its predecessor’s 2005 efforts, including in its Coventry and Lewisham “strongholds”. Since then local election results have given little cheer, even if they had a councillor elected last year … on an independent ticket. As growth eludes TUSC, voluntarism has stepped into the breach. By pulling out all the stops and standing absolutely everywhere they can reflect back a sense of dynamism to their members, that this project might actually be going somewhere. The second issue is their friends in the RMT. As the sleeping partner in the TUSC initiative, it remains a source of acute embarrassment that barely any of its 72,000 members are aware of what TUSC is, let alone that their union is an affiliate. Even the much-missed Bob Crow studiously avoided all mention of the coalition of which he was a founder on his Question Time appearances. And now the RMT has Mick Cash, a Labour Party member at the helm, it’s reasonable to suppose the union’s support is living on borrowed time. In this context, to try and keep them on board, running a large campaign is about showing the RMT that another party is possible. It won’t deliver the votes, but the SP must be hoping that the sheer size of the “biggest post-war left electoral challenge” will squeeze out a respectable – by far left standards – result. Because without the RMT, not only does TUSC go the way of the dodo,their perspectives suffer ignominious collapse and a good chunk of their membership will be profoundly demoralised.
But can TUSC and the other comrades standing in the election expect a continuation of poor results? Thanks to the rise of social media, the traditional press and TV matter less this time than has ever hitherto the case. They may be locked out of the leaders’ debates but they can, to a degree, bypass them. There is also the general mood too. If by some dark miracle the Tories scrape their way into power again, it won’t be because of a resigned acceptance of the need for more austerity. It’s not uniform, it’s complex and contradictory, but the much hallowed centre ground has moved left on a number of key issues. And also the far right has disappeared up its own backside. However, with established “anti-establishment” parties in the shape of UKIP and the Greens, and with the latter fielding its own anti-austerity message, it’s hard to see how TUSC and family can hope to poll anything other than derisory votes in the absence of name recognition, consistent work, and in competition with more viable alternatives to mainstream politics.
By James Bloodworth (reblogged from Left Foot Forward)
Labour shadow foreign secretary Douglas Alexander has just delivered his response in the House of Commons to foreign secretary William Hague’s statement on the crisis in Ukraine. The statements from both sides were fairly predictable – both condemned Russian provocations – but the Labour foreign secretary was right to press the government on what action it plans to take in order to pressure Russia into pulling back from Crimea. This was especially important considering the revelations yesterday evening that the coalition is seeking to protect the City of London from any punitive EU action against Russia.
But what about the rest of the British left? Well, here we find a wide range of positions, from the Stop the War Coalition’s apparent attempt to pin the entire blame for the Crimea affair on the West to Left Unity’s somewhat abstract and blanket opposition to “foreign military intervention” and “foreign political and economic intervention”.
The Labour Party
Douglas Alexander told the House of Commons that there could be “no justification for this dangerous and unprovoked military incursion”. In terms of resolving the crisis, he insisted that firm measures were needed to apply pressure to Russia, saying that the international community needed to “alter the calculus of risk in the minds of the Russian leaders by…making clear to the Russians the costs and consequences of this aggression”.
The shadow foreign secretary also mentioned the coalition’s apparent unwillingness to upset the City for the sake of Ukrainian territorial integrity, saying he was “afraid the United Kingdom’s words will count for little without more credence being given to these options and a willingness at least to countenance their use in the days and weeks ahead”.
The Stop the War Coalition/Countefire – 10 Things to Remember About the Crisis in Ukraine and Crimea
Lindsey German of the Stop the War Coalition and Counterfire has written a lengthy 10-point post in which she tries to paint the Russian invasion of Ukraine as a rational response to NATO/EU provocations. There is a lot that’s wrong with the piece, and you could do worse than read this take down of German’s article in the Economist.
“Who is the aggressor? The obvious answer seems to be that it is Russia, but that is far from the whole picture…Ever since the end of the Cold War in 1991, the European Union (EU) and Nato have been intent on surrounding Russia with military bases and puppet regimes sympathetic to the West, often installed by ‘colour revolutions’.”
The Socialist Workers’ Party – Putin Raises the Stakes in Imperialist Crimea Crisis
Much clearer in its stance has been the Socialist Workers’ Party (surprisingly perhaps), which has condemned much of what has been taken as read by Stop the War Coalition and Counterfire as “Moscow propaganda”:
“Those who claim Yanukovych’s overthrow was a “fascist coup” are parroting Moscow propaganda. He fell because the section of the oligarchy who had previously backed him withdrew their support…Putin claims to be acting in defense of Ukraine’s Russian speakers—a majority in Crimea and widespread in southern and eastern Ukraine. But beyond a parliamentary vote in Kiev to strip Russian of its status as an official language, there is little evidence of any real threat to Russian speakers.” – Alex Callinicos, Socialist Worker
The Alliance for Workers Libery – Russian Trade Unionists and Leftists Oppose Invasion of Ukraine
The Alliance of Workers’ Liberty has published a statement on its website from the University of Russian University Workers, which is unequivocal in its denunciation of Russian aggression:
“Declaration of the central council of the ‘University Solidarity’ union of Russian university workers:
“The central council of the “University Solidarity” union expresses its concern at the situation caused by the decision of the Federation Council of the Federal Assembly of Russia on 1 March 2014, granting the president of Russia the right to use Russian armed force on the territory of Ukraine.
“We believe that this decision does not help the defense of the Russian-speaking population of Ukraine and that it promises grave consequences. Support to the Russian-speaking citizens of Ukraine can be given by other means, by the means of state and popular diplomacy, by economic cooperation, by human rights.”
International Viewpoint (Fourth International) – No War with Ukraine
Encouragingly, the Fourth International has also condemned what it calls the “foreign policy adventurism of the current regime” in Moscow:
“War has begun. With the aim of protecting and increasing the assets of the oligarchs in Russia and in Yanukovich’s coterie, Russia’s leadership has undertaken an invasion of Ukraine. This aggression threatens catastrophic consequences for the Ukrainian and Russian peoples – most especially for the population of the Autonomous Republic of Crimea and Ukraine’s southeastern industrial regions…Today, the struggle for freedom in Russia is a struggle against the foreign policy adventurism of the current regime, which seeks collusion in forestalling its own end. The RSD calls on all sincere left and democratic forces to organize anti-war protests.” – Statement from the Russian Socialist Movement
Left Unity – Against Nationalism, Corruption, Privatisation and War
Left Unity is an interesting one, and appears to draw a (false) moral equivalence between unwanted Russian military intervention in Ukraine and economic assistance requested by the Ukrainian government to support its ailing economy:
“The continuing political and economic crisis in Ukraine is taking a dangerous military turn.
“Left Unity takes the position that there can only be a political solution to this crisis and that neither foreign military intervention nor foreign political and economic intervention provide the answers to Ukraine’s complex problems.
“Whether under the flag of US, NATO, Russia or the European Union, military intervention only ever makes the situation many times worse. So it is in Ukraine. The West’s hypocrisy in condemning Russia for breaking international law is breathtaking: nevertheless, Russian troops hold no solution to the crisis.”
Communist Party – Solidarity with the Communist Party of Ukraine
At the more extreme end, the Communist Party takes the Moscow line that the Ukrainian Euromaidan movement is ‘fascist’:
“The failure of EU leaders to uphold the 21 February Agreement on early elections has given sanction to a coup d’etat against a democratically elected government that threatens to destabilise the country and sets dangerous precedents for the future. The open involvement of US, EU and NATO leaders in the build up to the coup exposes it as part of the drive to change the geo-political balance in Europe in ways that threaten security and peace in Europe and the World… The Communist Party of Britain pledges its support to the Communist Party of Ukraine in its resistance to fascism, predatory capitalism and imperialism.” – Robert Griffiths, CP general secretary
Workers’ Power – Neither Moscow nor Berlin – for workers’ internationalism
…as does Workers’ Power:
“The bourgeois nationalist parties have taken power in an anti-democratic coup, using the fascist paramilitaries and rebellious police forces. Workers should make it clear they do not recognize the legitimacy of this government, its orders, the laws, and decisions of the counter-revolutionary Rada…The working class should not wait for outside intervention from Russia, nor allow the reactionary, undemocratic new regime to consolidate its power with the May 25 elections, held at gunpoint.”
As for the Twittersphere:
And on the right…
I was going to put a question-mark at the end of that headline, but on reflection decided not to. I think we can be unequivocal about this.
When I was a callow young Trotskyist and James P. Cannon fan, older, more experienced comrades told me that Cannon’s organisation, the American SWP (no relation to the Brit group of the same name) had gone off the rails very badly in the 1950’s, when Cannon began to take a back seat and handed the reins over to lesser figures like Joseph Hansen. Evidence of this petty bourgeois degeneration, I was told, was a ludicrous faction fight over the question of women’s cosmetics that threatened to tear the SWP apart. In the end, good ol’ James P. came out of semi-retirement to bang heads together and tell Hansen and the comrades to get a grip and stop arguing about such irrelevant nonsense. Anyway, that’s how I remember being told about it.
As you can imagine, I never (until now) took the trouble to investigate the matter in any detail, but if you’re interested, quite a good account is given here, and you can even read some of the contemporaneous internal documents here, if you scroll down to No. A-23, October 1954. On the other hand, like myself when I was first told about the Great Cosmetics Faction Fight (GCFF), you may feel that life’s too short…
The point being, that I’ve always carried round in the back of my mind a vague recollection of the GCFF as a prime example of petty bourgeois leftist irrelevance, and probably the most ridiculous and laughable left-group factional dispute of all time.
The recent row within the International Socialist Network, resulting in the resignations of some of its most prominent members, makes the SWP’s GCFF look quite down to earth and sensible. If you ever wanted an example of why serious, socialist-inclined working class people all too often regard the far left as a bunch of irrelevant, posturing tossers, this is it. Don’t ask me what it’s all about, or what “race play” is. Comrade Coatesy gives some helpful background here and here. More detail for the serious connoisseur (aka “more discerning customer” wink, wink, reaching under the counter) here and here.
I’ll simply add, for now, that this preposterous business does appear to be genuine (rather than, as some might reasonably suspect, an exercise in sitautionist performance art and/or anti-left political satire) and is also one of those rather pleasing situations in which no-one in their right mind cares who wins: both sides are unspeakably awful self-righteous jerks. Actually, the ISN majority strike me as, if anything, even worse than Seymour, Miéville and their friend “Magpie” – if that’s possible. Still, it’s hard not to endulge in just a little schadenfreude at the discomfiture of Richard “Partially Contingent” Seymour, a character who’s made a minor career out of sub-Althussarian pretentiousness and “anathematising” others on the left for their real or imagined transgressions against “intersectionality“, and now falls victim to it himself.
Those who live by intersectionality, die by intersectionality.
Or, as Seymour himself put it in his seminal postgraduate thesis Patriarchy and the capitalist state:
“My suggestion is that as an analytic, patriarchy must be treated as one type of the more general phenomena of gender projects which in certain conjunctures form gender formations. What is a gender formation? I am drawing a direct analogy with Omi and Winant’s conception of racial formations, which comprises “the sociohistorical process by which racial categories are created, inhabited, transformed, and destroyed … historically situated projects in which human bodies and social structures are represented and organized.” This is connected “to the evolution of hegemony, the way in which society is organized and ruled,” in the sense that racial projects are linked up with wider repertoires of hegemonic practices, either enabling or disrupting the formation of broad ruling or resistant alliances. A gender formation would thus be a ’sociohistorical process’ in which gender categories are ‘created, inhabited, transformed, and destroyed’ through the interplay and struggle of rival gender projects. From my perspective, this has the advantage of grasping the relational, partially contingent and partially representational nature of gendered forms of power, and providing a means by which patriarchy can indeed be grasped in relation to historical materialism.”
Those of us old enough to have been active on the student and petty-bourgeois left in the 1970’s will remember the various Maoist sects who then infected that milieu. Us Trotskyists may sometimes have looked and sounded a bit wacky, and one or two of the ‘Trot’ sects (ie: the WRP and the Sparts) were downright sinister. But it was the various ultra-Stalinist Maoist sects (whose names invariably ended with the initials ‘M L’) who really brought the left into disrepute with their ludicrous slogans, bizarre posturing and denunciations of “revisionists,” “social fascists,” “running dogs of imperialism” etc, etc (believe me: I am not joking).
As Comrade Coatesy points out, the “slavery” case is in many respects a dreadful tragedy. There is also, of course, the risk that it will put serious young people off the idea of becoming involved with the organised left. And the idea that these Maoist lunatics had anything to do with Marxism is, of course, preposterous.
Some reactions today from comrades who remember these crackpots:
* “These people were total fruitcakes (if I may use that term). I recall them appearing at a Tim Wohlforth meeting where their speaker said that Chairman Hua, Mao’s successor, could control the weather and was responsible for blizzards then raging on the coast of the USA. They also claimed the British fascist police unjustly persecuted one of their members driving through a red light (red meant go on Chinese roads during the Cultural Revolution). As Coatesy says, tragic and also dangerous for the rest of the left after Martin Smith, etc.”
* “Oh, the Workers Institute of Marxism-Leninism Mao Zedong Thought … I had actually concluded, looking back on them, that they must have been a joke. Aside from a leaflet I was once handed promising that the ‘day of revolutionary victory is nigh’ because the Chinese CP was digging a tunnel from which the Red Army would triumphantly emerge (soon) in London, I remember a campaign in defence of ‘Comrade Norman Rajeeb’ (maybe this was the guy who drove through the traffic light). As I recall he denounced not only the imperialists but ‘revisionists of all hues’ from the dock, and you could ‘literally see the representatives of the fascist imperialist state quaking in their shoes.’ Okay, these are quotes from memory and it was a long time ago, but, well, I laughed so long and hard it sort of stuck, I think.”
* “I presume they split from the CPE(ML) because of the Albanian turn of the latter. I think the avant garde composer Cornelius Cardew may have had something to do with them at one point. Cardew himself (who wrote the legendary book ‘Stockhausen Serves Imperialism’) moved away from Maoism towards the end, and then was killed in a road accident, which of course fuelled all sorts of conspiracy theories on the Maoist ‘left.'”
Above: Bayard Rustin
As the world gears up for the fiftieth anniversary of the great 1963 March for Jobs and Freedom, the Social Democrats USA remember the crucial role of Bayard Rustin, and the “Shachtmanite” organisation, of which he was a member: their role has been figuratively airbrushed out of official histories. Rustin was the key figure linking the Civil Rights movement and the unions:
By David Hacker
The 50th anniversary of the 1963 March on Washington is [this coming Wednesday]. Everyone knows about Dr. King’s “I Have a Dream” speech that he delivered at the rally outside the Lincoln Memorial for this event. What most do not know is that the entire march was conceived and planned by the Shachtmanites. A Philip Randolph conceived it. But Max Shachtman also had a hand in the idea for the march. He also chose Rustin to be the main organizer for the march. When Rustin was caught and arrested for homosexual conduct in a men’s room in Washington, Shachtman (though he was a homophobe) outlined for Bayard a defense of his action. Randolph was being pressured to fire Rustin and Southern Senators, such as Strom Thurmond, were attacking him on the issue of immorality. But as a result of Shachtman’s defense, Rustin continued to be the main organizer of the march (though his official position was downgraded a bit.), and he hired many Shachtmanites such as Norman Hill and Tom Kahn to assist him. At the same time, Bogdan Denitch organized the West Coast version of the march in California. At the rally itself, Kahn wrote the controversial speech by SNCC chair John Lewis in which the advanced text contained attacks on the Kennedy Administration and stated that “the revolution is at hand. We will take matters in our own hands and create a source of power, outside of any national structure that could and would assure us a victory…If any radical social, political and economic changes are to take place in our society, the people, the masses, must bring them about.” Then Att. Gen. Robert F. Kennedy said that Lewis shouldn’t be allowed to deliver his speech at the March. Patrick Cardinal O’Boyle, the Catholic prelate of Washington protested that he wouldn’t deliver the invocation for the rally if Lewis delivered his speech. Randolph, King, Rustin, Kahn and Lewis and other leaders of SNCC argued about revising the speech while the rally had already started. Finally, Lewis agreed to a rewritten speech and he was allowed to address the masses gathered at the Lincoln Memorial. (Lewis is now a Democratic congressman from Atlanta.)
What most history books do not tell you about is the Socialist Party conference that was held in Washington after the rally was over. It was entitled, “Socialist Party National Conference on the Civil Rights Revolution”. This was a 2 day affair held at the Burlington Hotel from Thursday August 29-Friday August 30, 1963. (The SP had a party for Marchers and Conference participants on the evening of August 28th after the conclusion of the March on Washington and rally.) The first session was Thursday morning with the theme: “Toward Full Equality in a Progressive America. Chairman of the session was Richard Parrish ( who was the chairman of the Civil Rights Committee of the United Federation of Teachers, Vice President of the American Federation of Teachers and Treasurer of the Negro-American Labor Council. Parrish was also running on the SP line for a special election for NYC Councilmember at Large in Manhattan and was supported enthusiastically by all factions of the SP.) Speakers were Norman Thomas, Floyd McKissick, Chairman of CORE (spoke in place of James Farmer, who was in jail in Louisiana), A. Philip Randolph and Congressman William Fitts Ryan (D-NY), a leader of the reform Democrats. Special remarks by Samuel H. Friedman, SP VP candidate in 1952 and 1956 and former editor of the Socialist Call. The afternoon session was entitled: “The New Phase: A Prospectus for Civil Rights.” Chairman of the session was long time SP activists Seymour Steinsapir. Speakers were Bayard Rustin, Deputy Director March on Washington. Responding to Rustin’s address were Robert Moses, Field Secretary, Student Non-violent Coordinating Committee, Ike Reynolds, Task Force, CORE and Tom Kahn, Staff, March on Washington. The evening sessions theme was “A Political Strategy for Civil Rights. The sessions’s chairman was Eleanor Holmes, now DC Congressional Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton. She introduced the conference’s keynote speaker, Max Shachtman, who spoke on the topic, “Drive Out Dixiecrats For Jobs and Freedom.” Responding to Shachtman’s address were Ernest Calloway, President, St Louis Chapter of the Negro-American Labor Council, and Wiloughby Abner, Vice-President, NALC, National Staff, UAW. The final session of the Conference took place on Friday morning. It’s subject was “Fair Employment-Full Employment. The chairman of the meeting was Warren Morse (a name I am unfamiliar with). Speakers were Lewis Carliner, Assistant to the Director, International Affairs Dept., UAW, Norman Hill, Assistant Program Director, CORE, Cleveland Robinson, Secretary Treasurer, District 65 RWDSU, Co-Chairman of March, Herman Roseman, Economist. Closing Remarks and Summary by Norman Thomas.
Thus, well known figures took part in this conference. such as leaders of CORE, SNCC, Randolph, Rustin, Norman Thomas, Norm Hill, Kahn, prominent folk singers like Joan Baez, etc. But my main point is that the Shachtmanites, militant civil rights leaders, labor, were all united seemingly in the same broad realignment movement of the democratic Left. SDS was still also a part of this coalition, despite of Harrington’s tirade against them over the Port Huron Statement, the year before. As long as the Shachtmanite-militant civil rights alliances continued, it would be counter-productive for SDS to seem to be against this realignment coalition. This is the very positive aspect of the Shachtmanites activities in the SP that too many are unfortunately not aware of. Harrington was not at the March. He was in Paris writing his second book, The Accidental Century.
David Hacker is Vice Chair of Social Democrats USA. The above article is excerpted from a book he is writing about Max Shachtman. Historical note: The Socialist Party in existence in 1963 would be renamed Social Democrats, USA in 1972. Harrington chose to leave the organization at that time. But organized labor stayed and so did Bayard Rustin, becoming National Chairman.
More on Rustin’s role in the Civil Rights Movement, and his subsequent political evolution, here
Gary Younge in the Gruan doesn’t even mention Rustin’s Shachtmanism
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