by Richard Evans
The current debate in Momentum goes to the heart of what our role should be. Is it a shadow party or is it a means of organising those who have been enthused by the election of Corbyn to transform the Labour Party. I am firmly in the camp of the latter. Half a million have joined the LP to support the politics of Corbyn; our job is to mobilise them to make sure Labour becomes the vehicle for change. Does Momentum need a rigid, bureaucratic structure to do this?
If we start from the premise that we are not building a new party but aiming to transform the existing, we have to set ourselves the task of changing the structure of the Labour Party to take power away from the leader’s office and the party bureaucracy. We must recognise the mistakes of the 1980s (and no doubt the 1930s) when the left was in the ascendant, but failed to transform the structure of the party and so, making it easy for the right to regain control.
Blair has built a top-down, very bureaucratic centralised party. In the course of which the members became a mere appendage, expected to play the role of a supporters’ club to the leader, almost destroying the party in the process. Corbyn may have won the leadership but the party apparatus remains firmly in the hands of the Blairites. Labour’s right, having failed to retake the leadership in the summer will now try to maintain their grip on the party machine in order to attempt to retake the leadership after the next general election.
The role of Momentum should be absolutely clear. It is to change the structure of the Labour Party to prevent the undemocratic control of the party by this right wing clique, and to give back control to the ordinary party members; giving the rank and file the power to make policy and to select their MPs, councillors etc. To do this we need the widest possible base and the least sectarian division. We do not have unlimited time in which to do this and we have probably lost a year already in not being sufficiently organised in electing conference delegates and local party officials in the past twelve months.
We need national coordination to ensure the necessary changes in the LP are being progressed. There will always be suspicion about any coordinating group – that they are exceeding their authority or pursuing their own ends, but there has to be a level of trust allied to oversight with a mechanism to change this group, if necessary. For this, we don’t need a rigid bureaucratic structure of national conferences with national and regional committees. In the days of mass participation through the internet, it needs for us only to have the right to remove those who are not acting in the general interest of re-democratising the party.
Alongside national coordination, we need local groups and networks organising to transform their local CLPs and acting as a bridge to encourage participation and offer direction to new members in the party.
The only policy we need is a desire to change the Labour Party. It would be a mistake for Momentum to have positions in all policy areas. Participation in Momentum implies an agreement on the general direction of travel to make the LP more democratic in order to enact change in society; nothing more is required. The debate on detailed policy should take place within a revitalised LP. Otherwise, the danger is that we become split and miss the opportunity to rebuild and re-democratise the party. Amongst us, we may well have differences on Brexit or Aleppo, but does that affect our cooperation on democratising the LP?
The desire for a rigid structure is a conservative one based on 19th century communications. The branches, executives, regional and national committees of the labour movement were born in a world where independent mass communication was none existent. It required physically meeting and necessitated the appointment of delegates to more remote bodies. But in the 21st century, in a democratic country, it is possible for rank and file members to communicate and debate with each other through social media and the internet. Indeed, it’s becoming the natural way to organise – with each member having equal access to the debate and an equal vote in determining any decisions that need to be made.
If socialists have a vision of a more democratically run society, shouldn’t we be trialling that direct democracy within Momentum itself?