How do you strangle a potentially promising initiative before it’s even properly launched? Have the Socialist Workers Party (SWP) announce that they want to be involved. Well, we’ve got the new politics, so why shouldn’t Labour Party members work with the SWP and what’s left of British Trotskyism as we “encourage mass mobilisation for a more democratic, equal and decent society“?
There are extremely good reasons why the SWP and my erstwhile comrades in the Socialist Party should be told to sling their hook when they try and get involved. A passing acquaintance with them is all it takes to understand that they’re fundamentally uninterested in building the wider labour movement, let alone the Labour Party – which is one of Momentum‘s explicit objectives. During the summer the SWP looked upon stormin’ Corbyn with indifference and barely any comment. For the Socialist Party, because Labour was a “capitalist party” Jeremy couldn’t possibly win and it was dead as far as socialist politics were concerned. The real alternative was (and of course, remains) the anti-cuts Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition (TUSC), an umbrella organisation whose name consists of more words than it got votes in the 2015 general election. Never mind, even the most blinkered of sects have to acknowledge political reality when it’s thrusting its unmentionables in their faces, and so the self-declared vanguards of Britain’s most advanced workers are scrambling to catch up to where tens of thousands of newly-politicised people are at.
At no point over the last 20 years have either organisation shown themselves anything other than interested in their narrow (and now, narrowing) party interests. Now is no different, except both are sharing a moment of existential despair. With 180,000 new members since the general election – the bulk of them on the left – as they like to put it, “for the next period” Labour is the pole of attraction. That means very slim pickings for them at the usual freshers’ fayre stomping grounds. The announcement of Momentum gets them out of this sticky spot. A series of meetings and campaigns with the “fresh layers” that have conspicuously avoided their charms thus far? Instead of outside watching hundreds of people file up for Jezza’s packed meetings, they now get to be inside? With overblown central committees and cadres of full-time activists to support, what putative Trotskyist outfit can resist the chance to top up the depleted fighting funds and offload a few more unread and unreadable journals? And, of course, that makes their involvement look utterly brazen, utterly cynical.
The comrades in these groups like to flatter themselves that the ire they inspire in other labour movement folk is because they have the “right ideas” and at all costs have to be stopped lest their views find a sympathetic hearing. It has absolutely nothing to do with their track record of undermining, dumping, and wrecking campaigns and actions at all. Nor the trail of thousands of broken and burned out activists their organisations trail everywhere they go.
And that especially applies to the SWP. It was but a short while ago this rancid organisation was hitting the headlines for its part in covering up very serious allegations of sexual assault and rape. If that wasn’t bad enough, the accused – a long-standing key full-timer and member of the central committee – was exonerated by a panel of party members he’d worked with, socialised with, was friends with for decades. Could it get worse? Yes. Not only were the women who made the allegations subject to the sort of invasive questioning even DS Gene Hunt would find out of bounds, one survivor complained about harassment by party members. Instead of owning up and accounting for their appalling behaviour, the SWP swept the lot under the carpet. Nothing to see here, let’s unite and fight the Tories. The SWP are little better than a cult with an opportunist, vampiric relationship to the labour movement. Unfortunately, it requires more than a sprinkle of holy water to make them evaporate.
The motives behind Momentum are laudable and it might work as a useful community organising tool. But ultimately, its success will rely on the work of established left Labour activists who share the leadership’s view. But if that means opening themselves to running battles with the SP, SWP, and other cranky sects, well, most have better things to do with their time and are likely to concentrate on existing party/trade union/community activities. Momentum needs some proper thinking through to avoid time wasting and hijacking.