Grassroots Momentum conference should call for a broad, democratic organisation of the Labour Left

11 March 2017

THE GRASSROOTS Momentum conference in London should be a chance to rally Labour members and supporters around a fighting strategy to push for democracy and socialist policy in the movement.

The conference is the first chance Momentum’s members have ever had to meet up nationally. It is also the first national meeting of grassroots activists since John Lansman and Momentum’s employees dissolved it’s elected structures, cancelled the policy conference and organised sham elections, which duly returned a slew of Lansman’s supporters plus a toothless opposition.

The grassroots conference gives Lansman’s opponents an opportunity to organise a model conference, giving a practical example of how members can formulate policy, debate it and then agree a strategy to take it forwards. This can silence the critics, rally the waverers and be a sharp corrective to the anti-democratic practices that are alienating people.

But we need to reach out beyond ourselves. Delegates should support the motion which from Southwark which says: “This national meeting resolves to call a Convention of the Labour Left in late spring or early summer to discuss cooperation and shared aims…”

We could use this to appeal to a range of groups on the Labour Left to build a new practical alliance that can really get things moving. That would include the LRC, Red Labour and others. Not least, the 40 branches that have rejected Lansman’s imposed constitution. We would invite members of liberation groups and campaigns to such a conference. It would trump Lansman by being broader than Momentum rather than narrower. What people will remember today’s conference is that it initiated an appeal for a wide, democratic organisation of the Labour left, one that can’t be monopolised by an office clique.

This is what we need and what today’s conference should commit to because we have a responsibility to return to the stalled and diverted vision of Momentum – that of regrouping and organising at a national  level the self-organised groups of members that got Corbyn elected first time round.

The only way to pull out of the deflation and fragmentation provoked by Lansman’s faction fighting is to call an open conference of the Labour left in which no individuals or organisations are allowed to put preconditions or ultimatums.

It was a mistake to stand for the National Coordinating Group. We should have spent all the time wasted on that organising today’s conference. Standing for the NCG has not taken us forward, on the contrary, it has legitimised that body and confused people in branches that were opposed to the coup.

The hijacking of the name ‘Grassroots Momentum’ to run a slate in the NCG elections within Lansman’s Momentum means many people are confused about what this conference is really for. Clearly some would like to politically neuter it so it is no more than a benign ‘unofficial grassroots forum’ that goes out of its way to avoid being seen as any kind of alternative.

So what should we do now? Today we have a structure that can adopt policy democratically. We need this because Corbyn and McDonnell are appeasing the Labour right rather than leading a national campaign against them. The Momentum office clique has been part of that strategy, which is why they don’t want big local groups or democratic structures that could strike out on a more effective path.

John Lansman’s coup was carried out in collusion with Jeremy Corbyn and John McDonnell. It’s no accident that it was carried out on the same day the leadership capitulated over the defence of free movement. Whatever strategy the Labour Party leadership are pursuing, it plainly isn’t working and members don’t have to be passive observers.

Complaints from the Leaders Office about being “ambushed” by Tom Watson are hard to take credibly when it was Corbyn who agreed to shelve proposals for opening up a party discussion on democracy – far from doing politics differently, members are still being sidelined by back room deals.

The Grassroots conference is in real danger of simply agreeing that we should campaign on issues which are already Labour policy (defending the NHS and migrants’ rights) and putting off more serious discussions to a conference in the future.

In the meantime, the various factions involved will take a few places on a steering committee, direct the local branches they control to support whichever front campaign they are currently running, and everyone will effectively go their separate ways, because no serious strategy will have been agreed that touches any of the fundamental issues, which are:

Overcoming the weakness of the left in the branches and constituencies; Momentum has failed to become either a social movement drawing in new supporters into regular campaigning, or an effective faction waging a determined struggle within the party structures. Both are necessary.

Developing a serious strategy for fighting local government austerity including a platform that leftwing councillors should sign up to get endorsements from the left

Fighting Brexit, promoting practical internationalism in the labour movement

Democratising the Labour Party, fighting for mandatory reselection, reforming councillor selection processes, making conference genuinely sovereign, holding local Labour Party conferences to draw members into policy discussion

John Lansman’s strategy of uncritical support for Jeremy Corbyn has led Momentum into the doldrums. Party members are becoming disillusioned with Corbyn because of his refusal to use the mandate that we have given him to actually fight the right wing and force them to support a radial policy shift – or leave.

The best way to support Corbyn’s leadership is to develop the structures and political strategy to deliver victories for the left in the local party bodies, in the trade unions, in the class struggle, against austerity-imposing Labour councils, in defence of local services.

With socialists who are supporters of Corbyn’s original  policies, not simply Corbyn’s ‘leadership’, leading real struggle and delivering tangible victories, we can start convince people that the left is ‘credible’ can ‘win’ and start to turn the tide as we win people to fighting for a socialist government.

That is what Momentum should be fighting for. Instead of simply electing a committee to manage the squabbles between small groups on the left, the grassroots conference should choose humility and audacity, live up to the ambition of the original Momentum movement and appeal for a convention of the Labour left to discuss cooperation and shared aims.

Keeping Corbyn in the leadership is essential because so far this is the only tangible gain that the left has made. If he was forced out, Labour would revert to the failed Tory-lite policies of Miliband and Harman, and the left would be purged by the Compliance Unit. But that doesn’t mean we have to simply accept all the compromises the right demands as the price for having Corbyn as leader. If Corbyn’s leadership continues to be gutted of any radical or fighting policies, demoralisation and disillusion will intensify.

A socialist left that actually believes in the ability of ordinary people to change the world for the better has to debate and adopt its own policies and fight for them in the constituencies and in the trade unions.

A big, properly organised conference could unite our forces by allowing large numbers of grassroots members to make decisions, overcoming the individual egos and fiefdoms of the left, and ending up with something bigger than the sum of its parts, that can actually go forwards and start setting the agenda.

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