Britain: Momentum's Night of the Long Knives

And so the Bonaparte of Momentum was born. At a stroke, Momentum’s democratic structures have been abolished; the tireless work of thousands of Corbyn supporters over the past year-and-a-half thrown out the window. Overnight, grassroots activists have been shunted to the side in what can only be described as a coup.

Momentum’s rank-and-file members must not stand for this behaviour – a sickening imitation of that seen from the Blairite mafia in the Parliamentary Labour Party last summer. Members and activists must organise emergency local meetings immediately and call for the originally planned Momentum conference to go ahead on 19th February, to discuss the way forward for the Corbyn movement and the fight for a socialist Labour government.

Lansman’s dictatorship

As we have reported previously (here and here), a divide has opened up in Momentum in the recent period, nominally over the issue of whether the organisation should be based on elected and accountable representatives or on a “horizontal network” of activists that make decisions through “one member, one vote” (OMOV). Rising above these factional disputes, however, Jon Lansman – the Momentum boss – has now imposed himself as dictator, presenting a fait accompli to the grassroots that is the worst of all worlds, both scrapping democratic structures and disenfranchising members in one fell swoop: precisely what nobody is calling for!

In an email sent out last night, at approximately 9pm, Momentum members and supporters were informed of a new constitution for the organisation, designed “to deliver the kind of action-focused, campaigning organisation that our members want”. But, under the guise of “reducing bureaucracy” and “increasing transparency”, the most basic elements of democracy within Momentum have been quashed. The bureaucracy has most certainly been reduced – to a dictatorship of one! And in a very “transparent” way!

Momentum’s entire democratic structure has been turned to dust: the regional committees, National Committee (NC), and even the Steering Committee (SC) have been dissolved, replaced by an amorphous mix of a “National Coordinating Group” (NCG), “Members Council”, and “Digital Democracy Platform”. Even the networking tools that did exist for local organisers have been axed; as a result, even those rank-and-file activists who supported the idea of an OMOV-based organisation are up in arms.

The new “democratic” structures outlined in the Lansman constitution, such as they exist, are a complete stitch-up. The NCG is a farcical copy of the old Labour Party electoral college, with 14-out-of-26 places guaranteed to Labour MPs, MEPs, councillors, etc., appointed by trade unions, and chosen by affiliated organisations – including opaque groups such as Compass, which doesn’t even support Corbyn [!], and Left Futures, which is essentially nothing more than Jon Lansman’s personal blog [!!].

In effect, such proposals (unilaterally foisted upon the membership) are designed from the outset to guarantee the Lansman leadership a majority in all decision making. In turn, all sorts of barriers have been erected to prevent activists from challenging the bureaucracy, with the signatures of 5% of the members (approximately 1,000 members, at current figures) required just for constitutional amendments to even be heard and discussed further. For those who are unhappy with the new constitution, members are politely informed that “if you wish to opt-out, you can email…to cancel your membership”. In other words, either shut up or get out!

Is this, one must ask, the “horizontal network” and “campaigning movement” that Paul Mason, Owen Jones, and other so-called “Lefts” had in mind when they used their privileged position in the press to admonish new Momentum members against the “old ideas” proposed by experienced trade unionists and Labour Party activists?

A coup in all but name

No Return of Blairism Socialist AppealThis move has all the hallmarks of a premeditated coup, clearly planned and orchestrated over a period of weeks. The Lansman clique, clearly feeling that control over Momentum was slipping out of their hands following the decisions of the December NC to move ahead with a delegate-based structure and national policy conference, have moved quickly behind the backs of the grassroots in order to regain a firm grip on the organisation.

Members have been informed by email that the new constitution comes off the back of a consultative survey and a vote on the Momentum Steering Committee – but the SC has not met for weeks, and was merely informed of the latest bureaucratic decision in writing, where Lansman in fact admits that he alone “has decided” on the way forward. Furthermore, the survey (and its results) used to justify this latest bureaucratic move were clearly devised from the beginning to overturn the votes taken on the National Committee, with numerous emails sent out “from Jeremy Corbyn” including leading questions and statements clearly intended to elicit a certain response. And even then, the imposed constitution does not meet the basic democratic demands made by those who support the idea of OMOV.

Most scandalously, these undemocratic actions by the Lansman bureaucracy come only hours after the elected Conference Arrangements Committee (CAC) (also now ditched) had announced plans for the first ever Momentum national conference, to take place in Rugby on Sunday 19th February. Any differences over policy, tasks, and structures could have been discussed, debated, and decided upon by elected and accountable delegates, based on discussions amongst rank-and-file members in local Momentum groups, at this conference. But now this too has been cancelled, in favour of an 18th February conference – organised from on high – that “will focus on the theme [of] ‘Momentum’s role in Labour’s General Election Strategy’”, and that “will be a day of activist training, political education workshops, networking, political discussion and debate”, with no room for genuine discussion – and, most importantly, decision making – over motions and the real issues at stake.

Following these latest manoeuvres and shenanigans, it is clear that Lansman and his clique have lost all confidence amongst ordinary Momentum activists and Corbyn supporters. Grassroots members and activists must act urgently to overturn these bureaucratic moves, calling emergency local meetings and electing representatives to go to the originally-planned national conference, scheduled for the 19th February in Rugby. This meeting must be used to democratically decide the way forward for the Corbyn movement – with or without the Lansman gang – in the fight against the Tories, against austerity, and against capitalism.

Below is a model motion to be raised in local Momentum groups:

This branch of Momentum condemns in the strongest possible terms the moves by Jon Lansman and his clique to usurp and undermine the democratic decisions made by the majority of the Momentum National Committee.

These undemocratic, behind-the-scenes manoeuvres demonstrate that Lansman and co. can no longer be a trusted and should be replaced immediately by accountable representatives, elected through the previously existing democratic structures of the Regional and National Committees.

The newly imposed constitution is completely undemocratic and should be withdrawn immediately. Instead, the plans drawn up by the previously elected Conference Arrangements Committee should be used as the basis for a national conference of elected delegates to discuss and decide upon the way forward for Momentum and the Corbyn movement.

We call for:

  • The immediate restoration of all democratic structures within Momentum.
  • The national conference to proceed in its previously agreed form, as a democratic conference to discuss motions and decide policy on the basis of elected delegates from local groups.
  • For an emergency National Committee to discuss this coup and hold those responsible to account.

The politics at root

As we have underlined previously, the current chaos within Momentum is – at root – not down to organisational questions, but political ones. The real divide is between Lansman and other so-called “Lefts” – such as Mason, Jones, et al. – on one side, who want a passive Corbyn movement that is “respectable” and willing to compromise with Labour’s right wing; and an increasingly radicalised grassroots on the other, who have been pushed into action in the wake of last year’s “chicken coup”, unwilling now to sit back and let the Blairites slowly strangle Corbyn and the movement against austerity that he represents.

Indeed, throughout all these events, one thing stands out: the desire by the self-appointed Momentum leadership to mollify the Blairites, clip the claws of the Corbyn movement, and turn Momentum into a toothless tiger. From the beginning, cold water has been poured over any bottom-up initiative from Momentum’s rank-and-file. At the last Labour Party National Conference, all the chickens came home to roost, and the Momentum leadership’s paralysis was met with a thumping victory for the right wing in all the decisive votes.

As a result, Corbyn has become increasingly isolated and impotent at the top of the Party, unable to provide a lead on major issues such as Brexit, and unwilling to take the fight to the Blairite saboteurs that infest the PLP. Indeed, the vital task of kicking out the Blairites has, in turn, been knocked on the head by Lansman, who has publically came out against the call for mandatory reselection, to the visible delight of Tom Watson and the gangsters he represents.

Faced with this lack of leadership, however, Corbyn supporters have begun to take matters into their own hands, organising locally to revitalise Momentum, gain control from the right wing in Labour branches and CLPs, and transform the Labour Party from the ground up.

This process, however, has started to put pressure on the Momentum leadership to take action. They could feel their control of the movement slipping through their fingers. They can see that a grassroots-led movement has the potential to go far further than what they intended or wanted in terms of its organisation and demands. Recent votes over policy on the Momentum NC, on issues such as migration and the Labour purge, for example, posed a genuine threat to Momentum leaders and their hopes of compromise with the Labour right. This could not be tolerate by the Lansman gang.

The logic of the situation – that is, the class antagonism between the Blairite Establishment and the anti-austerity, anti-war demands of workers and youth – means that a full-on confrontation with the Labour right wing, however, is inevitable at a certain point. Either the Left is victorious in Labour’s civil war, or Corbyn will be dead and buried, forced to capitulate – and eventually stand down – on the back of demoralisation and defeats. This latter outcome, in turn, would deal a shattering blow against the movement, potentially sending it back years.

It is clear that all the actions by Lansman and co. are designed to appease the right wing and avoid a split. Indeed, in the latest correspondence from the Momentum head office, it is openly stated that the new constitution is designed to allow Momentum to officially affiliate to the Labour Party. But for what good? Such an affiliation would be meaningless; and yet the Momentum leadership is willing to bend over backwards to accommodate the Labour bureaucracy and ingratiate themselves with it.

For example, in order to qualify for affiliation, the imposed constitution states that all Momentum members must be members of the Labour Party. Anyone who has been expelled from the Labour Party in the McCarthyite purges of the past 18 months – such as Socialist Appeal activists, amongst others – will, in turn, be expelled from Momentum! As well as proving the “respectability” of Momentum towards the Labour Establishment, for Lansman and the other chief bureaucrats this is also a convenient way of removing the most “troublesome” members from Momentum’s books.

In effect, then, the unaccountable Momentum leadership has handed control of the organisation and its membership over to the even more unaccountable Labour right wing, who with the push of a button could disband Momentum by fabricating some flimsy excuse and declaring all of its members to be in breach of the Labour Party rulebook. The latest actions by the Lansman clique, therefore, are, at best, naively short-sighted; and, at worst, consciously and criminally crippling Momentum and prostrating the Corbyn movement before the Blairites.

Kick out the Blairites! Kick out the Tories! Kick out capitalism!

Without the organised pressure of the masses behind him, Corbyn’s weakness and limitations are quickly multiplying and being exposed. The latest flip-flopping over Brexit and the question of the free movement of labour, and on the idea of a maximum pay cap also, has only added to the disillusionment towards the Labour leader, who has, truth be told, been virtually invisible since winning an increased mandate in last year’s party leadership contest.

By remaining silent, in an attempt to placate his opponents and keep the peace, Corbyn only ends up appearing confused and rudderless. Precisely when boldness is required to go on the offensive against the divided Tory government and finish them off, we instead see nothing but indecision, vacillation, and a constant pandering to the Blairites, who in turn are nothing but a pale imitation of the Conservatives and UKIP.

The mood clearly exists for an anti-establishment leader who throws caution to the wind, exposing the crimes and contradictions of the Tories and the rotten system that they defend. But even here, the actions of the respectable ladies and gentlemen amongst Corbyn’s team of advisors is laughable, as demonstrated by the recent announcement that Labour strategists would “relaunch” the Party leader as a “left-wing populist” this year. If you’re going to pose yourself as a left-wing populist (whatever this means), you don’t announce it in a slick press statement – you get on your soapbox and rally against the corrupt elite that holds society to ransom under capitalism!

The objective situation is indeed calling out for such a leader. But this requires militancy and audacity; firmness and resolve; an unflinching determination to follow through with the programme that the vast majority of Labour Party members and supporters have – twice now – voted for.

The genie is nevertheless out of the bottle. No matter what Lansman, Watson, or whoever desire, the movement of workers and youth has been awoken from its slumber. The task now is to get organised; to transform the Labour Party from top to bottom; to build a mass political movement capable of fighting for a socialist alternative to the Establishment and their broken status quo.