By KD Tait ON 10 JANUARY Jon Lansman and a majority of the Steering Committee launched a coup. This subcommittee of the NC at an email “meeting” voted to overrule the December 5 decision of the sovereign National Committee to convene a conference of delegates from the local branches.
For good measure it abolished the NC itself by imposing a new constitution; which nobody had seen, discussed, voted for let alone was able to amend.
As part of this coup Lansman announced elections online to a new body, the National Coordinating Group. Lansman hates the idea of democratically elected representatives of active branches meeting, discussing and adopting political positions. Instead he prefers online voting by membership lists he alone has access to.
Fortunately he NC majority decided to ignore its abolition and at its 28 January meeting rejected the new constitution and agreed to convene a national meeting of delegates from branches and liberation groups to discuss the organisation’s future, postponed till March.
These decisions reflect the widespread opposition to Lansman’s coup amongst grassroots members, who have passed critical motions in dozens of branches up and down the country.
This coup is not just an expression of his famously autocratic methods. It came on the very day Jeremy Corbyn abandoned his previous defence of free movement of workers. This was closely followed by his decision to impose a three-line whip to vote for triggering article 50 opening on Labour MPs thus opening the road to Brexit.
Lansman’s actions were obviously intended to avoid the embarrassment of Momentum holding a policy conference in mid-February, where issues like Brexit and free movement would inevitably have cropped up and where the branches could have challenged and criticised the retreats of Team Corbyn.
The 28 January NC agreed to convene a national meeting in March, with delegates elected according to the proportion previously circulated by the Momentum office.
However, the decision to state explicitly that this meeting is not the national conference that the NC was tasked with organising is a serious tactical error.
The NC’s authority is derived from the fact that it was elected by the members as an interim body to organise a democratic conference.
Downgrading the conference to a meeting of local groups effectively concedes to Lansman the right to dictate whether the members can organise a conference.
It was intended to avoid accusations that the NC are trying to split the organisation. In fact it makes a split more likely and means that those who support the NC will have to take the initiative.
Finally, if the national meeting is to succeed it, members must be able to attend knowing it was an authoritative, decision-making body that will address the fundamental issues confronting socialists today. If it is a talking shop or confines itself to uncontroversial discussions on the NHS in order to avoid provoking Lansman it will simply flop.
Lansman and his self-selected leadership already control the database, the money, the office and the staff he hired. It is an organisation whose strategy and goals are decided between Lansman, Unite, TSSA, and Jeremy Corbyn’s office.
Red Flag in contrast stands for an organisation that harnesses the energy and commitment of the hundreds active Momentum members to win the thousands of new Labour Party members, to decide for themselves what the Party’ strategy should be.
Boycott the NCG
A proposal to call for a boycott of the elections to Lansman’s National Coordinating Group was defeated, with the NC leaving it up to individuals to decide.
In our view this is a mistake. Nevertheless the NC did not decide to endorse any candidates and in our view no one should take part in this fake election to an illegitimate body.
Lansman will use elections to the NCG as yet another of his plebiscites a plebiscite; this time to confer legitimacy on the new structure. Even if elected, those opposed to Lansman will not have a platform to criticise him and people will use their presence to prove its ‘democratic’ credentials. If they get a derisory vote they will have undermined the existing NC for no benefit.
Unfortunately the decision of the AWL to push hard for candidates to nominate themselves before the NC had the chance to discuss the matter presented the committee with a fait accompli - “support us or cut yourselves off from our campaign”.
As a tactic in general, a boycott is of course ineffective when applied to an existing institution in which people have powerful illusions and to which it is not yet possible to counterpose an alternative institutions. However, a boycott can be effective where a new and undemocratic institution is being counterposed to a living democracy.
With such a large number of branches now rejecting Lansman's pseudo-democratic constitution, and with the complicated NCG not yet convened, the situation we are in is far closer to the latter than the former.
If those who support Corbyn do not organise quickly to give expression to his policies in the real world, his leadership of the Labour Party will continue to be gutted of principle and eventually terminated.
For these reasons we think it’s important that the national meeting in March takes the urgent decisions necessary to halt the demoralisation and paralysis and give a fighting lead.
It should pass simple motions which address
- Fighting Brexit, defending free movement, building real international links of solidarity with socialists in the EU, USA, Russia and beyond
- Address austerity by organising a campaign against local government cuts at a national and borough level
- Democratisation of the Labour Party including mandatory reselection, abolition of the National Policy Forum and Compliance Unit and reform of the National Executive Committee.
That’s how we will connect socialist solutions with the immediate struggles that people are facing.