1. Introduction
  2. Coronavirus and the economic catastrophe
  3. Fight for a real socialist programme
  4. Internationalism
  5. Democratisation – A party of struggle
  6. Momentum’s role
  7. Why are we standing?

Introduction

The Labour Party has only ever had three left wing leaders, who reigned for just 10 out of 120 years of the party’s history. Jeremy Corbyn occupied four and a half of them on his own.

Corbyn’s leadership embodied the desire of millions of workers for an alternative to the programme of privatisation, war, and austerity pursued by successive neoliberal Labour and Tory governments.

Despite two election defeats, important gains were made:

  • Policy Corbyn and the left broke the Labour Party from its addiction to neoliberal policies
  • Mass membership Corbyn’s leadership inspired hundreds of thousands to join the party, transforming hundreds of CLPs
  • A new left provided a space to debate socialist policies and the role and purpose of the Labour Party

Yet just months after Corbyn’s resignation and the crushing defeat of Rebecca Long-Bailey, these gains risk wipeout at the hands of a Keir Starmer leadership, whose sole objective is to reposition the Labour Party as a loyal opposition that can be called on to manage the British bosses’ state.

Our task is to recognise this retreat for what it is, and fight it tooth and nail. But to do so effectively, we need to understand the strategic mistakes and compromises that squandered Momentum’s potential to launch a mass social movement based on the class struggle, paving the way for Corbyn’s own defeat and the resurgence of the right.

  • Electoralism The narrow focus on elections as the sole legitimate means of achieving change cut Labour off from its greatest resource – the working class and social movement tradition of direct action and protest.
  • Opportunism Because Labour aspires to be a national government rather than a partisan of working class interests, both Right and Left willingly sacrifice those interests to electoral expediency.
  • Compromises with the right. Corbyn’s team made too many concessions to his enemies, disillusioning voters and members, cutting us off from new mass movements.
  • Bureaucratic manoeuvres The leadership increasingly relied not on the mass membership but on special advisors, the NEC and union leaders.

The real danger of the Corbyn movement to the ruling class and its agents inside the labour movement was not that the leadership’s mild social-democratic programme was intolerable to British capitalism – it was that the self-confidence and encouragement it gave to a working class movement could lead to it raising its horizons and transforming into a movement beyond the control of the party.

The key lesson of the Corbyn leadership is that the pro-capitalist Labour and trade union bureaucracy will never allow ‘their’ party to be peacefully – democratically or bureaucratically – transformed into a fighting party of the working class, one dedicated to the expropriation of the capitalist class and the implementation of workers’ power on the basis of a democratically planned economy, which is the only honest definition of socialism.

Coronavirus and the economic catastrophe

The first and most important task we face is to turn the Labour Party, the unions and Momentum outwards to the workers and youth who are facing a triple crisis of a deadly pandemic, economic disaster and environmental destruction.

As the government’s criminal incompetence drains its support, the prospect of Labour being drawn into some form of national government grows. But Keir Starmer and the TUC’s desire for national unity and a shared responsibility for managing the way out of the crisis is a trap which will disarm us.

Each local Momentum group should draw up a plan of action to put themselves at the heart of the struggle to put the interests of the working class first – and demand the Labour leadership back us.  

  • No to ‘herd immunity’: Support demands and actions for PPE, mass testing, special protective measures for the elderly and BAME people.
  • No return to unsafe work: Millions are working in danger without decent pay or safety measures. Workers’ control of all workplaces, including those returning after the lockdown. Support all strikes and protests.
  • Councils of action: Elect delegates from workplaces, unions, and communities to councils of action which can coordinate the resistance to evictions, job losses, and unsafe working conditions, locally and nationally.
  • For people’s budgets: Elected committees of representatives of workers’ organisations, residents, and Labour parties, to draw up People’s Budgets as the basis for a campaign to restore the resources and accountability of local government.
  • For universal healthcare: Campaign for the nationalisation and integration of health and social care, pharmaceutical and medical equipment industries without compensation and put them under workers’ control. Fully fund the NHS by taxing the rich.

The economic tsunami that is about to hit us has no parallel under modern capitalism. Unemployment stands at 30 million in the US and is predicted to reach 3-4 million here. GDP shrunk by 3% in the first quarter of 2020, with a never before seen 25% slump predicted for Q2. The national debt has increased by £3 billion, three times that caused by Gordon Brown’s bailout of the banks.

Momentum locally and nationally must raise the flag of resistance: we will not pay for the crisis again!

  • No redundancies, no pay cuts: Call for and support strikes, occupations, and protests against sackings and closures; demand firms shedding workers are nationalised without compensation.
  • Organise the unorganised: Build an unemployed and precarious workers’ movement.
  • For fighting unions: Build a movement of rank and file members to remove the bureaucracy, and put the strategy, resources, and disputes under the control of members.
  • Real social security: Universal Credit pegged to the real living wage. No evictions or repossessions; nationalise personal and household debt.
  • International solidarity: Solidarity with all those in the Global South fighting against Britain, the US, China and the EU passing on the cost of their crisis onto the world’s poor. Strengthen ties with fighting unions and socialist parties across the world through international assemblies to coordinate united resistance.

Fight for a real socialist programme

Overcoming the great crises confronting humanity – climate change, the pandemic, recession – will require an attack on the system which causes them – capitalism.

The urgency of these crises combined reveals the utter futility of illusions in the gradual, parliamentary methods of persuading the capitalists to give up their dictatorship over the economy and unelected parts of the state.

Almost every Labour government has based its “socialism” on what the bosses can afford, not on what the workers need. This invariably ends up with a Labour government (or council) attacking its own working class base. We say: if the system cannot afford our basic demands, we need to take over more of their wealth and power.

Can the market produce for workers’ needs or do we need a socialist plan? If it’s the latter, then we need to nationalise the banks and the commanding heights of the economy. You cannot plan what you do not own.

Can this be achieved by parliamentary means alone? The experience of Syriza in Greece and the Workers Party in Brazil show that democracy counts for nothing with the bankers, the generals and the courts demand their tribute.

That is why Jeremy Corbyn was right when he said “we can only rule as a social movement”. But instead of being an auxiliary force, mass mobilisationn should be the bedrock of a socialist government.

  • Nationalise the commanding heights of the economy, without compensation and under workers control.
  • Nationalise the banks and merge them as the first step towards a democratically planned economy.
  • For a democratically planned economy so we can implement a green industrial revolution, abolish poverty and expand social services.
  • Abolish all anti-union laws and legislate for the right to strike, automatic union recognition and compulsory collective bargaining.
  • Abolish all immigration controls and grant citizenship to families and individuals who want to come and work here. Rescind all laws which discriminate against BAME, women, LGBT and youth.
  • Withdraw all British troops from foreign bases, commit the party to nuclear disarmament and withdrawal from NATO. Cancel the debts and treaties that bind hundreds of millions to British imperialism.
Photo: Steve Eason

Internationalism

Finally, is the struggle a national one or should it be international? In today’s world we believe to ask the question is to answer it. Such a programme can be started in Britain but only realised internationally.

The interlinked crises of public health, climate breakdown and economic crisis, can only be solved at an international level, on the basis of democratic co-operation and planning.

Therefore resistance to any one of these crises must be linked to the struggle for the overthrow of capitalism as a system and the organisation of an international socialist commonwealth.

To confront the challenges posed by the breakdown of the neoliberal world order, we need to coordinate our efforts internationally.

Coronavirus has hardened the borders but at the same time dissolved them. While any one part of the world is affected by the virus, no part is safe. The global women’s strikes and the school strikes show the way forward – direct action that recognises no borders.

The burning questions facing our movement – health crises, austerity, climate breakdown, the refugee crisis – demand cooperation in finding institutional and international alternatives to this bankrupt system.

  • Call for a new European social forum to bring together the labour, trade union and social movements of Europe and its neighbours to debate a common strategy and forge a united resistance.
  • Oppose the implementation of Brexit and fight for a socialist united states of Europe.
  • Oppose British imperialism and Labour’s traditional support for British foreign policy; stand with oppressed peoples and minorities around the world fighting against imperialist exploitation and for democratic rights.
  • Oppose the witch-hunt of anti-Zionists and support the justified resistance of the Palestinians to occupation and colonisation.

Democratisation – A party of struggle

To wage an uncompromising struggle to fight for the interests of the working class we need to drive out the pro capitalist apparatus and careerists from the party and the unions.

Corbyn and his supporters in the unions and among party staff pulled many of the Democracy Review’s punches, because their sole strategy – winning an election and reforming capitalism within the limits allowed by the capitalists themselves – depends on preserving the unity of the Labour party.

But a PLP stuffed with right-wingers, who represent over 80% of Labour’s seats, would never implement a left wing manifesto – as Labour Leaks has revealed. The policy of shielding the right from the members via undemocratic procedures is a dead-end.

Every concession strengthens the right wing, the union bureaucrats, the Labour Party staff and officials and weakens us, the left and the membership. We need to demand full control of our party – even if this provokes a split.

We have to purge the party by replacing every pro-capitalist MP, Councillor and official with class fighters. Democracy is the lifeblood of a socialist party, expelling toxins and renewing itself.

  • Automatic open selection of all MPs, Councillors and officials. Any representative or paid staff who disrupts the party’s work should be expelled.
  • Democratise the unions. Support rank and file control over all union dealings inside the party, including the conference bloc vote.
  • For the sovereignty of conference, including over what goes into the manifesto.
  • Oppose the witch-hunt of anti-Zionists, which is designed to suppress legitimate opposition to British imperialism’s pro-Zionist policy.

Momentum’s role

In its first year, Momentum made headway in organising the Labour left, establishing local, regional and national leaderships, and planned for a founding conference.

However, Momentum began to adopt policies that were more radical than the Labour leadership were prepared to accept. In December 2016 the Momentum National Committee passed a motion in favour of freedom of movement, contradicting Corbyn’s position. This committee was dissolved only weeks later after Jon Lansman launched a coup cutting down all democratic structures within Momentum.

Implemented in 2017 before the membership could read it, and without any democratic process to allow for amendments, the current constitution:

  • Removes the democratic rights of local groups centralising all decision-making to the NCG, which is not fully elected by the membership and is not recallable
  • Promises a direct digital democracy platform for members to propose policies, which after three years has never materialised, instead there have only been very occasional online plebiscites which have received poor turnout
  • Grants the NCG considerable power to overrule the will of the membership unless voting turnout thresholds are met, similar to Tory anti-union laws

This was a disaster when Corbyn was leader but it is even more unfit for the tasks of combatting the capitalist offensive and fighting the now dominant right wing. We need to go back to first principles of workers’ democracy in order to win Momentum to socialist policies and turn it into an instrument of struggle. This cannot be done if it remains tied to left MPs and union officials.

  • For a sovereign policy and constitutional conference, the only way to renew Momentum.
  • Autonomy for all branches and regions so they can carry out Momentum’s work according to local conditions, collaborate with each other and continue to test out socialist ideas through debate and practice.
  • Accountability of all Momentum officers to the membership, to whom the resources, including the data, of Momentum should belong in practice and in deed.

To organise socialist activists to build resistance, outline a socialist programme, and prepare to struggle against the right, and without them where necessary.

Why are we standing?

Our starting point is recognising that the Labour Party is contradictory.

On the one hand it is the expression of that part of the working class that sees itself as a class and the need to form an independent party that fights for its rights.

On the other, it is a party of the union leaders and officials and their counterparts among the MPs and councillors, who want to manage capitalism better than the capitalists and promote a more equitable society.

The struggles of the left and the right wing of the party have up to now been conducted within the confines of this contradiction. We want to break it – by fighting with the leadership where it defends the interests of the working class,but without them and against them where they won’t.

We are currently at a crossroads.

To the left is the temptation of diving into local work and downscaling the political fight. Many will lose sight of national and international goals and focus exclusively on localism, self-help initiatives, and sectional struggles.That will dissipate our forces.

To the right there are those who want to work with Starmer and live with the right, waiting for “our turn next”. A bit more democracy in Momentum, an annual priority campaign and we can carry on as before. Time does not favour this proposal. We’re in the fight of our lives now!

The alternative strategy is to march forward, take on our enemies and defeat them. To do that we must not flinch from attacking the enemies in our ranks, who refuse to criticise the Tories, the overpaid union bureaucrats, who betray our struggles, the party apparatchiks, who work to undermine our efforts.

The party that we are fighting for and the working class needs is a million miles away from the tame, pro-capitalist machine that Jeremy Corbyn tried to lead, and Keir Starmer is now reforging in the spirit of Kinnock and Blair. It is a party based on the class struggle, prepared to overthrow capitalism by any means necessary, inside – but mostly outside – parliament.

In the age of runaway climate change, a massive capitalist crisis, all talk of universal public services and democratic reform is utopian, unless it is explicitly linked to the recognition that in order to permanently secure revolutionary changes to the balance of power and wealth in society, we need to deprive the bosses of their control over the economy and state.

Our proposal can be summed up as follows:

  • Reject reliance on the state or parliament for lasting, real reforms. Now more than ever our real strength lies in the streets and the workplaces. Unite the struggles ahead with a socialist vision of a workers’ government, based on the fighting bodies of the working class.
  • Break with the capitalists in our ranks. Base our policy on what the working class needs, not what the bosses can afford. If capitalism cannot deliver a decent life for all, we will have to make inroads on its wealth and power.
  • Turn to the working class – not just as an act of solidarity, though often it starts as such – but with our programme for power. The start of that fight for a better world depends at this moment on whether we can link today’s defensive struggles for PPE, jobs and services to our goal of socialism.

We think Momentum and the Labour left represent the biggest and most important group of organised activists committed to socialism in the labour movement.

If we can raise our horizons beyond piecemeal reforms and towards the active struggle for socialism, we have an essential role to play in swinging the pendulum of history towards the working class. That’s why we are standing. Vote for us!