The left’s decisive victory in the election for the three new places on the Labour Party National Executive has produced sharp reactions in the press.
Most of the reports read like press releases for Labour’s right-wing fringe, with quotations from Progress officials and right-wing MPs denouncing Momentum and demanding that the left, having won, behaves as if it has lost. The Times, always more candid and more daring in its attitude to Labour’s rank and file, called explicitly for any Labour MP who is deselected to resign and fight by-elections as independents!
On one level, this seems wildly over the top. But, as with so many times since 2015, mild demands and breakthroughs from the left have produced vicious denunciation and threats from the right precisely because they break from the pattern of three decades, the pattern of the left being crushed and anything vaguely like class politics marginalised.
Even if you discount more radical possibilities, the prospect of the left and labour movement breaking out of that pattern is high stakes enough for the ruling class. The Times is clear on what is at stake: “Labour’s stance as a constitutionalist, moderate party of social reform at home and as a supporter of the transatlantic alliance in foreign and defence policy”, i.e its utter subservience to aggressive neo-liberal capitalism.
Socialists must insist on the left calmly resising this blackmail. This or that tactical consideration notwithstanding, Labour’s membership has both a right and a responsibility to continue — or, really, begin — the transformation of the party.
Allowing the political establishment, its press and the Labour right to maintain a veto over “difficult” issues like reselection of MPs will block that transformation. It will mean that decisive issues which as yet have barely been raised in the movement — for instance repealing all the anti-union laws — are subject to the same kind of veto.
Local Labour Parties should ask their MPs for statements that they will not stand against the party if deselected and, if they refuse, should start by simply publicising the fact.
We must raise the “difficult” but necessary issues as forcefully as possible. That applies to democratising the structures of the party, pushing the limitations of the carefully controlled official Democracy Review. We must fight to end disciplinary procedures being used to expel socialist activists, as well as on selection of parliamentary candidates and other issues.
It applies to Labour’s programme and policies, where even motions passed unanimously by conference — for instance on reversing NHS privatisation and on the right to strike — are largely ignored. What the party campaigns on is badly inadequate even from a social-democratic point of view.
It applies to Labour’s whole political culture, from local parties to the National Executive to Labour councils, in numerous respects.
Raising demands for democratisation and left-wing policies will be limited and sterile if they are not linked to getting members and the party as a whole active in campaigning on the streets.
Central to that must be supporting workers’ struggles and rebuilding living links with workplaces and unions in order to revive a working-class political culture. Central too is building lively, campaigning local Young Labour groups in every constituency and Labour Clubs on every campus.
As a Corbyn-led Labour government approaches, the challenges and threats the movement face will only grow. The possibility of even Labour’s existing promises being carried out effectively depends on organising for a much more radical program and ideas than are on the agenda of either the Labour or Momentum leaderships.
Defend Jon Lansman
Progress’s attacks on the Labour left following their National Executive win have focused on Momentum chair Jon Lansman.
Lansman is a high profile figure with a long history of campaigning for democracy and left policies in the party. But the attacks are hung on and may have an impact because of Lansman’s contradictory record and role since 2015.
When right-wingers point out the undemocratic way in which Momentum is run and the convulsions this has produced (most recently Lansman’s shutting down of what was left of Momentum Youth and Students after his supporters reduced it to a fragment putting out Stalinist progaganda), they are obviously grotesque hypocrites.
They intertwine their attacks with criticisms of mandatory reselection and other left-wing demands as if they were all the same thing. Nonetheless, some of what they say about Lansman and Momentum is true!
It is good that Lansman was elected comfortably; we should defend him against the right’s cynical and opportunistic attacks. That should not mean airbrushing his central role in turning Momentum into a tightly controlled, politically timid organisation and in the process miseducating an important layer of activists.