by Nick Wrack
Eighteen members of the Momentum National Committee attended its meeting in London on Saturday 28 January 2017. I attended as a delegate from London, elected from the London Regional Committee. There were 13 regional delegates, two from the Labour Representation Committee (LRC), one from Red Labour, one LGBT+ rep and Matt Wrack, general secretary of the FBU. There were a further 30 observers from around the country.
We met in defiance of the coup carried out by the previous Steering Committee chair Jon Lansman and five allies who, without any discussion or prior notice, purported to impose a new constitution on Momentum, abolishing the existing regional committees/networks, the national committee, the steering committee and cancelling the national conference being planned by the Conference Arrangements Committee which had been elected at the National Committee held on 3 December 2016.
The meeting was called by members of the Steering Committee who opposed the coup.
Much has already been written about the coup. No doubt many Momentum members would like not to discuss it any more. But such a scandalous, undemocratic manoeuvre cannot simply be accepted or ignored – ostrich-like – so that we all just move along as though nothing of any import has occurred.
In forty years activity in the Labour movement I have not experienced anything like it. Can you imagine if a trade union had suffered a similar event? Imagine one morning you wake up and read that the president of your union has decided to cancel the annual conference; abolish the national committee and the regional committees; and to impose a new way of electing a new, different national leadership body. There would be uproar. There would be a revolt from below.
And rightly so. Anti-democratic acts are incompatible with the socialist movement. They will destroy it. Trade unionists and socialists aim for a new form of society – a society in which the limited democracy we now enjoy is extended to full democracy. Such a society cannot be built unless the movement that aims to achieve it is itself democratic. Any attempts to cut corners, on the argument that the end justifies the means, will inevitably undermine our cause.
The socialist movement requires the mass engagement of the working class. But most people will not tolerate actions that undermine their ability to participate fully, expecting them to do as they are told. We need the Labour Party to be fully democratic, so that its members can argue for change and achieve it without bureaucratic obstacles preventing it. How can Momentum argue, without embarrassment, for the Labour Party to be democratised, if it tolerates what has just occurred?
Those who have organised and carried out this coup deserve no support whatsoever. Those who have welcomed the imposed constitution deserve the same. How can anyone who endorses such undemocratic practice be trusted to act democratically if elected to positions of authority within the Labour Party or trade unions? There is a layer that agrees that the coup was undemocratic but, for the sake of peace, argues that we should now just accept it and move on. I can’t agree with this approach either. Momentum is rotting from the head and it will soon affect every aspect of the organisation. The coup is no small matter, to be brushed to one side. When faced with such outrages people have to take a stand. Democracy is fundamental. Without it our movement cannot succeed.
It has been extremely encouraging to see so many local groups condemn and reject the coup. The LRC and Red Labour have refused to participate in the elections to the newly created National Coordinating Group (NCG).
It should be remembered that the members’ ‘survey’ issued by the national office, which has been used to justify the coup, was not trailed as being anything more than a survey. There had been no discussion over the content or formulation of the questions. There was no prior indication that it was to be used to alter the existing structures overnight. The constitution was imposed, not put to the members in the local groups, at a national conference or in an OMOV vote of all the members. It contains little OMOV. The constitution that I drafted with Matt Wrack contains far more OMOV but has been completely ignored. The new NCG will contain a minority of OMOV elected members’ representatives. It will be virtually impossible to change the new constitution. Those members who have argued for OMOV have been sold a pup.
It was very good that this NC meeting started with a political discussion, addressing national and international developments and the need for clear socialist policies to respond to the rising right-wing ‘populism’. We need more discussions like this at local level, addressing seriously how we deal with Brexit, trade wars, nationalism, racism, free movement, austerity and cuts and, more fundamentally, what sort of society are we striving to achieve.
Two motions were proposed and agreed with some minor amendments. In short form the NC rejected the coup and agreed that it would not dissolve. A new ‘coordinating committee’ was elected comprising Matt Wrack, Jackie Walker, Jill Mountford, Josie Runswick, Alec Price, Delia Mattiss and Michael Chessum.
Most importantly, the NC agreed to support a national meeting of representatives from local groups to take place on 11 March 2017. All local groups should discuss this and agree to send delegates.
There was some discussion about how to approach the current elections to the new NCG. My own view is that these elections should be boycotted. Opponents of the coup should not stand for election, nominate or vote. To do so, in my opinion, will only serve to give some legitimacy to the new constitution, when it deserves none whatsoever. However, some members of the NC had already put their names forward and there are anti-coup candidates standing, so I did not support the NC taking a position on whether to boycott or not. I believe that those who are standing are mistaken to do so; they are naïve to stand and are overestimating their ability to effect change.
I see no way of stopping or reversing the coup. Jon Lansman and his allies have effectively used their control of the database, the office and the means of communication to shut down any meaningful democracy within Momentum. Those who call for compromise should set out the detail of the compromise they believe possible. Every time a compromise has been reached Jon Lansman has acted to undo it. But, as a last-ditch effort to see if any compromise is possible, the NC agreed to my proposal that we invite Jon Lansman and his key supporters to meet with a delegation from the NC, under the auspices of John McDonnell, to see if we can find a way forward.
The crucial struggle to fight for democracy and socialist policies in the Labour Party has suffered a setback with recent developments in Momentum but that struggle will continue. We are not fair-weather friends of Jeremy Corbyn. We will continue to support him, critically when necessary, and we will not join those who voice a desire for a new leader. A new leader at this moment means a victory for the right and we must oppose that.
Much more must now be done to build a network of local groups, so that they can share experience and ideas, develop policy at a national level and coordinate activity. The meeting on 11 March will be a crucial staging post. That meeting must assert its commitment to democracy and socialist policies and develop a way to organise independent of those responsible for the coup. We need to build the activist socialist base in every Constituency Labour Party so that we have the numbers and the ideas to change the Labour Party from bottom to top.