The left-wing tide in the Labour Party which carried Corbyn into the Leader’s Office in 2015 was driven by a surge in engagement in left-wing politics by young people.
The elements of genuine socialism in Corbyn’s platform were a source of hope for many young people. That opened the possibility of building a real youth movement, and overcoming the Blairite stranglehold on Labour’s student wing and the sluggishness of a Young Labour that was prevented by bureaucracy and dwindling membership from developing real local roots.
Unfortunately, five years on, that promise hasn’t been realised. While some local student Labour Clubs have adopted left wing leaderships and become more active, overall, the picture is one of lost time.
The leadership of the Corbyn project began its term in office with a fight against its own left wing. Momentum was consumed by a raging fight by its office to stop its membership from putting any leftward pressure on the leader, which meant shutting down not only its own democratic structures, but also its youth wing, Momentum Youth and Students (MYS). A narrow clique of Stalinist-influenced careerists were deployed by the Leader’s Office to carry through the shut-down of MYS and keep Young Labour under control.
That clique, with a nasty culture of online bullying and cultish group-control behaviours (including a creepy one-finger salute - pictured above), took control of Young Labour on behalf of the leadership and ran it into the ground.
The politics of the “official left” leadership of Young Labour were poor: they supported Brexit and were hostile to attempts to commit the party to backing freedom of movement. In organisational style they borrowed too much from old Blairite patterns: beyond mobilisations at internal and external elections, the young membership were expected to remain passive.
Young people came out in repeated, impressive mobilisations for Corbyn. But the youth wing’s paranoid leadership, obsessed with factional control and uninterested in any serious effort to organise working-class young people into an autonomous youth wing, failed to develop a movement with life and roots of its own.
In the forthcoming Young Labour elections, young members shouldn’t have to choose between standing still (with a cultish, paranoid, top-down and politically nationalist “left) and sliding backwards (to a right-wing liberal Blair/ Brown/ Miliband-style regime).
Momentum Internationalists and others are working to put forward candidates defending internationalist politics, and a democratic, bottom-up vision for reviving and re-organising Labour’s youth movement. Watch this space.