Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

July 9, 2018

Richard Seymour on Momentum

Filed under: Britain,electoral strategy — louisproyect @ 5:30 pm

(As part of a project to help me write about the differences between the Democratic Party in the USA and Labour in the United Kingdom, I started reading Richard Seymour’s book on Corbyn that was written in 2016. Having grown frustrated with his Lacanian drift over the past 5 years or so, I am relishing every page of this book that is both politically astute and lively reading. Highest recommendation.)

In an effort to capitalise on the energy of Labour’s ranks of new, radical members, some of Jeremy Corbyn’s supporters set up the campaigning group Momentum. The idea was positive: members who had mobilised in the heat of a campaign should not just be ignored and left to their own devices once the election was concluded. While Labour has never been a socialist party and is unlikely to become one, activists can at least create a durable space for themselves. Yet it has produced a chorus of condemnation from the Labour Right and their allies in the media for its supposed bullying of Labour MPs. Even Deputy Leader Watson, a seasoned and nuanced warrior of the Labour Right who tends to pick his fights carefully, denounced it as ‘a rabble’.”

In truth, there is little evidence for this, and it is not absolutely clear what Momentum will become. The group has encouraged members to participate in classic forms of street activism and protest, but it has also sought to make advances on Labour’s internal bodies — with some modest success thus far. It could be a genuinely democratic grass-roots movement, or a left-wing equivalent of pressure groups such as the New Labour-backing Progress and the soft-left Compass, or a machinery for the furthering of the influence of seasoned hard-left operators in Labour’s committees. As with any such fragile new organisation, it is betraying a propensity to attract various groupuscules, factions and office-seekers, which could end quite badly. If members of proscribed groups decide to join Labour in order to work within Momentum, they could hand the party machine an opportunity to disrupt its efforts by using i the Compliance Unit to purge the interlopers. Irrespective of the fairness of such proscriptions, misguided entryism merely legitimises such crackdowns and makes life harder for Labour activists.’ Some members also complain of the excessive dominance within the group of factions like the Livingstone-aligned Socialist Alternative, or specific individuals. It is difficult to parse these claims, which others members dismiss as paranoia or a right-wing hobby horse, but it would be a shame if the first steps in organising a fragile new Left were to be bogged down in the minutiae of individual careers, jockeying for influence and the back-ward tendencies of Britain’s old, exhausted, fractal Left.

What is more, many of the newer members are as yet ideologically unformed and politically indeterminate, while the older Bennite and Militant-style leftovers are, in general, too ideologically formed and too politically inflex-ible to be effective. Frenzied stories about Trots taking over branch meetings aside, the new Labour Left is more potential than reality, its organisation is nascent, and it is roughly divided between those who lack experience and those whose experience is one of trauma. The cultural schism between those who still sing the Red Flag at parties, and those who emerged from the more modern-day milieux of Climate Camp, the student movement and Occupy, is a palpable obstacle. The younger are more culturally fluent, know how to use Twitter, aren’t obsessed with setting up street stalls on a Saturday morning, and are capable of expressing the Left’s arguments in an idiom that is accessible — but they do not, as yet, have the confidence to lead. It is also not yet clear what kind of party they will want Labour to be, how they want it to relate to the wider organisational and social stream of the Left, or what their attitude to trade unions will be. The various left-wing groupings within Labour — be they Momentum, the Labour Representation Committee or Red Labour — are as yet underdeveloped, and hardly any match for the immense, lordly dominion of the parliamentary party and the electoral-professional caste running daily party life.

 

1 Comment »

  1. Seymour’s book is liked by some people on the left here, but a much better starting point to grapple with the left is A Party with Socialists in it. A History of the Labour Left. Simon Hannah. Pluto Press 2018. All the people Simon gives thanks to in writing his book are long-standing Labour left-wingers with deep grass roots experience groups such as John McDonnell’s Labour Representation Committee, Labour Briefing and campaigns.

    The Livingstone aligned group, which is a shadow of its former self (and during its period of influence was down to around 20 ‘elite entrists’, as its opponents called it), plays little part in Momentum, is called Socialist Action.

    Red Labour is a group of odd-bods in London better known for shouting on-line than anything else.

    I would also not assume such a division between MPs and Party members, and I speak from direct experience.

    A major difference with the US is the most obvious: forms of democratic socialism have long-lasting roots and support in the unions and the population of these Isles.

    This is a review of Hannah’s book by somebody whom modesty forbids me to name, who comes from this labour movement.

    https://tendancecoatesy.wordpress.com/2018/07/02/a-party-with-socialists-in-it-a-history-of-the-labour-left-simon-hannah-a-democratic-socialist-review/

    Comment by Andrew Coates — July 10, 2018 @ 11:45 am


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