Elite goes tinfoil over Momentum

Owen Smith calls 18,000-strong group an “alien parasite”

In the past two days there’s been a clear, programmed switch of emphasis in the Labour right’s campaign against Jeremy Corbyn.

They have switched from attacking Corbyn himself to attacking Momentum, the grassroots campaign set up by his supporters after he won last time, and which forms the backbone of his leadership campaign now.

A Times story, based on an offical-looking but anonymous dossier about Momentum’s activities in Liverpool, forms the centrepiece. Two pre-scheduled TV “investigations” are to follow.

The Liverpool dossier has been compiled by someone — believed to be local Labour officials — using undercover surveillance methods to infiltrate Google and Facebook groups Momentum uses.

The dossier follows the usual, Zinoviev letter-style method used in all red-baiting: to build the case that Momentum is, instead of an 18,000+ strong movement of Labour activists, a alien force originating outside the party.

It concludes — without any evidence- that numerous members of Momentum have joined:

“with darker, more insidious intent… to seize control of the machinery of local Labour Parties and use it for their own ends.”

As rightwing blogger Guido Fawkes notes:

Whoever carried out the extensive investigation must have had significant abilities and resources. This is not an amateur job, it is a forensic red-on-red black op which found its way to the press to diminish the party leadership. Note that it’s written in the official party font.

The Times editorial completes the logic:

“Momentum is technically independent of Labour. In reality it is the cuckoo in Labour’s nest, busy entrenching Mr Corbyn’s power and undermining British values and democracy in the process.”

It’s important to understand the change of emphasis. A few weeks ago Owen Smith was demanding the right to attend Momentum rallies alongside Corbyn. Though concerns were expressed about a few individuals inside Momentum who, in the past, had been activists on the far left, this is different.

Now Smith has suggested it is a Militant-style entryist group. Yesterday he came very close to suggesting that like Militant it should be proscribed. He said:

“We have seen these tactics in the past under Militant. Momentum is not terribly subtle. Creating a big ‘M’ at the front of their name should give the game away.”

The previous allegation — that Momentum was infiltrated by the far left — has been superseded by the idea that the group itself, in its entirety, is an “entryist” formation.

The allegation is ludicrous.

With 18,000 members Momentum is four times bigger than the Militant Tendency ever was, even at the height of its influence in the mid-1980s. Momentum is organising The World Transformed — an open, free, largely unstructured culture and ideas festival alongside Labour conference in Liverpool as a way of attracting non-party activists and local young people. The organisers have arranged open press access and gained sponsorship from two Labour-affiliated unions and a major NGO. Indeed until last week their main problem was convincing the press to cover it.

Militant, by contrast, was a rigid grouping, with two layers of secrecy, an internal command/control structure and an elected leadership along Bolshevik lines. It operated like this because that is how the Labour right operated. It was in some ways a mirror image of the bureaucratic hierarchy it tried to oppose.

Today, that is still how the Labour right organises: Saving Labour, for example, is a website co-ordinating attacks on Corbyn which has still not reveal who funds it or owns it. Labour Tomorrow is collecting funds from rich donors for purposes as yet unannounced. It has no publicly accountable structures at all. Momentum, by contrast, is an open and democratic group.

So what’s really going on?

If Corbyn loses, the anonymous Liverpool dossier is clearly designed and scheduled to feed a subsequent witch-hunt with spurious evidence prompting “justified concern” of entryism.

But if Corbyn wins, and the Labour ultra-right try split the party, the entryism fantasy becomes even more important. It was this “justified concern” that led Appeal Court judges to rule in favour of Labour barring 130,000 signed up members of the party from the vote.

I have suggested before that the manufacture of an “entryism” narrative is being done to bolster the legal battle that would be fought by Labour’s pro-1% wing if it decides to walk away from the party. Its moral claim to the name, premises and bank account would rest on the legal argument that an “alien” force had stolen them.

So what can we now expect? Both Panorama and Dispatches have been preparing hatchet-jobs on Corbyn for weeks. But Corbyn’s campaign has provided meagre pickings for any TV journalist who follows UK broadcasting rules on fairness and impartiality. Corbyn’s core ideas poll very well among the general public and there have been — “traingate” notwithstanding — no major gaffes.

Any fair account of the Corbyn campaign would have to conclude he’s won the arguments, grown in stature and turned his party into the biggest political force on the left in Europe, albeit he faces big challenges going forward.

So instead, both TV exposés are said to have turned into hatchet jobs on Momentum. These will be amplified in the anti-Labour newspapers of Rupert Murdoch, starting tomorrow in the Sunday Times.

The solution is for both Momentum and Progress — the millonaire-funded Blairite pressure group — to become formally affiliated societies to the Labour Party. That would make all Momentum members effectively Labour members — either via individual party membership or via affiliation as with the other societies. They would then be subject to party rules.

That would need a rule change. In the meantime the principle should be clear: members of proscribed organisations obviously cannot be members of the Labour party. But there are thousands of people currently barred from membership on spurious grounds; in these circumstances I think it’s acceptable for anybody to be a member of Momentum as long as they do not campaign for rival parties like TUSC, the Greens or the SNP.

Beyond this — and this is why I am keen on the social movement idea — Labour members need actually to be collaborating with Green activists, left nationalists, anti-political people and even Libdems when it comes to grassroots resistance over issues like grammar schools.

One of the reasons Momentum grew so rapidly after Corbyn won is that the official structures of the Labour Party remained so dire: branch meetings are dull and bureaucratic; Young Labour stifled by Blairism; CLPs strangled by hierarchical politics. Many of the new members who joined to support Corbyn reported outright hostility from the existing bureaucracy.

And without Momentum, inner-party life would have ground to a halt this summer, after the General Secretary arbitrarily closed down all party meetings. But that is changing.

Going forward, there’s a big job ahead to open up the official structures:

  • to de-select the (hopefully few) MPs who insist on actively sabotaging and abusing Corbyn;
  • to bring forward a new “A-list” of candidates — more representative of the class, gender, ethnic and sexual-orientation of the UK population than the present PLP;
  • passing coherent radical policies Labour Conference 2017 and the next National Policy Forum;
  • deepening the left’s majority on the NEC and reversing the purge;
  • focusing activist resources into geographical areas where the official party is weak;
  • and turning Labour’s regional structures from anti-left “enforcement” operations into local networks of co-ordination to fight the Conservatives.

The more Labour achieves its stated aim of becoming a social movement the less activists will need to do via Momentum itself.

Momentum could, in future, concentrate on policy formation, member education and the kind of issue-activism an electoral party with limited resources can never properly do.

In all events, Momentum should be defended. It is a genuine movement of the Labour left; it stands in the long tradition of radical social democracy, going back to Robert Blatchford’s Clarion movement before 1914, or the ILP in the 1920s.

And one of the clearest indicators that Momentum is a genuine, democratic formation is that the surviving far left — the SWP and Socialist Party–stand separate from it and their leaderships are wary of it. This suits me — because I have no sympathy for the bureacratic and hierarchical culture of Bolshevik re-enactment groups; it is precisely the open-ness, cultural diversity and networked outlook of Momentum, and the generation of youth drawn to it, that terrifies them.

Instead of attacking Momentum, any social democrat with an ounce of knowledge of Labour history should welcome it, even if they disagree with its politics. It is one of the factors preventing the “Pasokification” of social democracy here— ie the process of hollowing out, to be replaced by a party of the far left we’ve seen in Greece, Portugal and Spain.

The bottom line is: Momentum has a right to exist within the Labour Party and its members have a right to be heard.

If you’re a member of it, the best way to survive the upcoming red scare will be to smile your way through it. This is the tinfoil hat moment of the Labour right, as it realises half a million people cannot be bought by the money of a supermarket millionaire.

So get out the popcorn. You’re about to see what happens to the neo-liberal wing of Labour — and its propaganda arm — when the workers, the poor and the young get a say in politics.

In modern parlance: they are about to lose their shit.