“We oppose the infiltration of the Labour Party by the SWP”, or so “a spokesperson for Momentum” has been quoted by the Huffington Post (16 October) as saying.
Momentum is a new network launched by members of Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour leadership campaign team. Actually, the “spokesperson for Momentum” had been asked about the Socialist Workers Party (SWP)’s declared intention to join Momentum, not the Labour Party, and so her or his answer was a non-answer. Worse, a wrong non-answer.
The left should unite. Disagreements with SWP members — and regular readers will know that Solidarity is second to none in disagreeing with the SWP — are best dealt with by debate along with united activity where we agree. SWP members, indeed the whole SWP, should join the Labour Party now.
Most of the local groups which are now taking the name Momentum are groups of Labour left activists set up as pro-Corbyn caucuses in the leader contest. They operate in the ordinary democratic labour-movement ways, with meetings and votes. Sometimes a few SWP or Socialist Party members have attended meetings, but without disruption. These Momentum groups have a clear framework and purpose, to help activists revitalise local Labour Parties and Young Labour groups. On a national level, mistakenly in our view, Momentum has so far been advertised as an autonomous movement open to all, Labour and non-Labour — a pantomime horse group combining the functions of Labour left caucus and “38 Degrees” type internet link-up. We doubt such a catch-all conception is viable. As advertised, Momentum should be open to anyone on the left to join.
However, the problem is not that the SWP can or can’t join. At present no-one (except presumably “the Momentum team”) can join. And in some areas Momentum is taking the form of Facebook pages run by the self-elected. On the same day as the Huffington Post quote, the Labour left website Left Futures carried an article by former Socialist Party member Phil Burton-Cartledge declaring that “cranky sects”, namely “the SWP and the Socialist Party”, “should be told to sling their hook when they try and get involved” in Momentum.
The article has a witch-hunting tone, but doesn’t say what rules Momentum should impose to exclude SWPers and SPers, or who else should be excluded. (If being “cranky” and “sectarian” is the criterion, then on the evidence of the article Burton-Cartledge himself should be number one on the Proscribed List... And some of the people who have wormed themselves into high positions in Corbyn’s Leader’s Office should follow close behind). It is no wonder the early days of Momentum see some floundering. Its organisers are improvising in hectic and unexpected circumstances.
Grass-roots activists can help get things straight in four ways:
• By building local Labour Momentum groups which are open, democratic, and have a clear Labour-focused remit.
• By opposing bans and proscriptions. If the SWP want to join the Labour Party, they should be welcome. If they don’t, then still Labour Momentum groups should seek to work with them on issues of common concern.
• By dealing with disagreements neither by pretending they don’t exist, nor by anathemas, but by debate.
• By asking for Momentum to set up a clear democratic structure as soon as possible, so that activists themselves can decide on the most effective way to organise.