"The left detaches itself still further from everyday experiences of the British working class"by Jon Cruddas / November 10, 2016 / Leave a comment
This summer’s no confidence move on Jeremy Corbyn was the result of post-referendum trauma among his parliamentary colleagues, who feared an early General Election. It was always likely to fail and reinforce resentment between much of the membership and the bulk of MPs. As a result of it, we are in stalemate; a stasis exists that hinders any real understanding of the Corbyn phenomenon and what lies beneath.
For those of us that hold to this view, the Party Conference in Liverpool brought some mild relief. This wasn’t found at the tepid, formal event itself but a mile down the road at “A World Transformed,” a festival put on by Momentum—the Corbyn supporting movement in and around the Labour Party. Here there was new thinking and real debate. Above all, there was a sense of political vitality and indeed fraternity; an antidote to the stale top-down politics offered by Labour’s traditional left and right wings.
A few weeks later and Momentum appears in crisis. Divisions first surfaced over the decision to postpone a meeting of the group’s national committee—which has not met since May—and the decision that at its conference next February, when its future structure will be decided, there will be an online ballot for all of the group’s members. Despite a compromise brokered by John McDonnell, talk still persists of a profound split.
One reading of the situation is simple. Now the question “Will Jeremy Corbyn remain Labour leader?” is resolved, Momentum cannot transition from being a busy, cultish organisation on behalf of Jeremy, into the daily grind of building opposition to the Tories. Intra-Labour struggle is the easy bit—every left variant can unite against assorted “blairites,” “red Tories” and austerity. Now that it has won it doesn’t know what to do next without cracking its synthetic unity.
Another take is to see this not as the start of a long-term split, but as a necessary initial skirmish over what Momentum 2.0 might look like. One could argue turbulence is necessary if the organisation is to transition onto a more democratic, transparent and sustainable political footing. The key fault line is usually identified as being between an older Bennite, hard left constituency and more radical democrats whose focus is on the European anti-austerity movements. This also reflects generational tensions, and a battle for control over alternative forms of internal democracy. Others see it as a struggle between those who want to use Momentum to transition toward a new left party, outflanking Labour, and those wishing to reshape the existing party. Yet the real divide is of a more profound nature—and is much more interesting.
Arguably, the real tension lies between traditional Leninist far left politics based around a discernable industrial working class base and the post-operaismo—literally the new “post workerist”—left. The latter was highly influential within the anti-globalisation movement and the post-crash Occupy and student anti-cuts protests. For this group, the working class base of the left is disappearing, thanks to technological change and automation. The new core left project is pushed by the urban, globally orientated, networked and educated youth—rather than any group resembling the proletariat. The class absolutism of the old guard is at odds with the new “autonomists” and their rejection of mainstream left political parties, unions and traditional representative democracy.
For this group, the fashionable talk is of “accelerationism” and even “fully automated luxury communism,” with technology offering new straightforward route maps toward some vaguely defined era of “post capitalism”—captured in the current post-workerist fad: the Universal Basic Income.
Here is the kicker though. Momentum might well flourish over the years that lie ahead and build on the promise on show in Liverpool earlier this autumn. But if the internal battle comes down to a fight between hard line Leninists seeking to destroy Labour and post operaismo urban hipsters demanding free money and a right to be lazy, then any possibilities contained within Momentum will quickly vanish. The only real beneficiaries will be the populist far right as the left detaches itself still further from everyday experiences of the British working class. For those who believe that a broad based Labour Party has been a blessing to our country—especially in the fight against fascism—this is a time of great peril. The question is: will Momentum step up to engage with that tradition? The clock is ticking.