Dispatches, Momentum and the AWL.
On Monday, September 19 Channel 4’s “Dispatches” programme centred on Momentum and, in the first half, the influence of Alliance for Workers’ Liberty (AWL).
The defenders of Momentum (and the AWL) have resorted to a number of attacks on the programme.
(a) Owen Jones wrote on this on Twitter.
(b) The AWL stated in their defence,
They strongly believe that they have every right to put forward their views within the Labour Party and the programme was a “pathetic, and fairly ineffective, attempt to scandal-monger”.
In answer to Owen Jones, as he is a long term member and supporter of the Labour Representation Committee who have aided and encouraged entryism into Labour since its inception, I have no doubt he has heard many different varieties of “Trots” over the years turning up at meetings to “bore people”. As for the “Trots” being “unrepresentative”, Jill Mountford is on the National Steering Committee of Momentum and has been given their full support in her appeal against expulsion from the Labour Party.
The other AWL member featured (Mark Sandell) is representative of the fact that a Trotskyist can be elected Chair of (the now suspended) Brighton Labour Party. Another (ex?) Trotskyist, Phil Clarke (who says he has resigned from the Socialist Party) was also elected onto the CLP executive at the same meeting . Mr Clarke featured in the Panorama programme which aired later on BBC 1.
It is certainly true that the Trotskyists featured are a small minority within Momentum and, in that sense, do not represent the views of the vast majority. However, it is also the case that Momentum believes that Trotskyists have a natural home within the Labour Party and support their right to be there. And, as can be seen in the Momentum organisation and Brighton CLP, Momentum supporters will also vote Trotskyists into positions of influence even if they do not automatically agree to every dot and comma of their political programme.
Democratic Socialism vs Revolutionary Socialism.
So, what is the attitude of the AWL to democracy and, in particular, parliamentary democracy? Their claim above is that they are “democratic” and that Trotskyism is a “democratic” tradition. On September 6, Sasha Ismail wrote this defence of revolutionary socialism and his belief that the AWL deserved to be in the Labour Party.
In the end, it all boils down to one thing. The Labour Party is a supporter and defender of using parliamentary democracy to further its programme. Trotskyists (including the AWL) see parliament as a platform to further the cause of revolution and, ultimately, overthrow it and counterpose a “better’ democracy, a “workers’ democracy”. In the same way, to the AWL, being in the Labour Party is a tactic in the building of a “better” party namely, a revolutionary party.
The AWL stand in the traditions of the Bolsheviks who, in February 1918, overthrew the fledgling Russian parliament, the Constituent Assembly, when they received only 25% of the vote (see below for votes and seats).
They proposed instead “All Power to the Soviets” and, when the votes there didn’t go the way they wanted, banned democratic socialist parties, anarchists etc and, ultimately banned factions in their own party as they consolidated their one party state.
That was almost a hundred years ago you might argue. Surely, the views of the AWL and other Trotskyists may have evolved andmay have changed after what happened to the Russian Revolution with the rise of Stalin. I would argue their views have not fundamentally changed and that there is a clear line between the Labour Party tradition and the AWL and all those from a Leninist tradition regarding parliamentary democracy.
In 2010, the overthrow of parliamentary democracy was expressed in an article by AWL leader Sean Matgamna regarding the events of May 1968 in France. Instead, revolution and “workers’ power’ was the alternative proposed.
“To attain workers’ power the necessary steps were:
a. To prepare organs of workers’ power by generalising the factory committees (already taking many decisions not normally taken by workers) into local, regional and finally a national council of workers’ delegates — thus opposing an embryonic workers’ state to the bourgeois state.
b. Begin to actually run the factories, under control of the workers’ councils.
c. Decisively smash and dismantle the bosses’ state — and consolidate the new order as a workers’ state.”
The smashing of the “bosses’ state” includes the smashing of the “bosses’ parliament” à la overthrow of the Constituent Assembly in Russia 1918.
In Matgamna’s article, parliament and parliamentary democracy are treated with contempt. Parliamentary democracy was used in France 1968 “to filter an explosive mass revolutionary ferment through the slit in a bourgeois ballot box” and “to forego forever the prospect of workers’ power”. The “bosses’ parliament” is among the “institutions [which] are specifically designed to prop up capitalism — not to knock it down”.
In other words, in the view of the AWL, socialism does not, cannot come through parliament but only through insurrection and the overthrow of parliamentary democracy.
Parliamentary democracy or revolution.
Supporters of Momentum have to make up their minds. Do they support parliamentary democracy or not? If they do (and I’m absolutely certain most do), then they have to ask themselves, and their leaders, why do they support the “right” of organisations like the AWL to be inside the Labour Party? Do you honestly believe that democratic socialism and revolutionary socialism are compatible? Is it right that organisations who wish to “support Labour as a rope supports a hanging man” (as Lenin stated) and build a revolutionary party within Labour should be allowed in and stay?
Parliamentary democracy in the UK and elsewhere is not perfect but, in terms of democratic accountability, it is the best history has offered so far. Parties large and small, extreme left and extreme right, Tory, Lib Dem and Labour compete for votes to run the country every five years or so. The Labour Party traditionally believes that trying to win votes to form a Government and, hopefully, make a real, better difference to most people’s lives is what needs to be done. That is a completely different philosophy to a belief that revolutionary insurrection is the way that society can be changed.
That’s why the Labour Party is quite right to defend its structures and tradition against all those who would seek to undermine it and overthrow parliamentary democracy.
 The AWL wrote an article in January on the Socialist Party (aka Militant Tendency) and their attitude to the Labour Party. There they mentioned the following -
Whether or not, Phil Clarke (who was (is?) a long term leading member of the Socialist Party) is among those doing “investigatory work” is certainly something I hope the Labour NEC are looking into. I discussed the case of Brighton CLP here.