December the 14th 2019.
Firstly, we are sorry that we are meeting today in such sad and unfortunate circumstances. While what we need to do to address the pressing concern of maintaining a left leadership over our party, and what we must do to strengthen and further build a movement capable of winning electoral power will occupy our thoughts today, Labour Transformed’s inaugural meeting was called to address wider concerns regarding our movement, concerns that were not contingent on the outcome of this election – i.e., how to build a mass, participatory and democratic socialist movement predicated on class struggle and class solidarity.
So who are we?
Those of us who called this meeting come from various political backgrounds, but all of us share a common connection with extra-parliamentary social movements, particularly those associated with direct action and open and participatory debate. Alongside many others in this room, we also have origins within two interrelated events.
The first of these was the financial crisis of 2008, and the wave of extra-parliamentary politics that arose to fight austerity beginning in the autumn of 2010. At that period it would be safe to say the Labour party did not present itself as a viable vehicle through which a socialist agenda could be pushed, marred and dominated as it was by the scourge of Blairism and neo-liberal ideology. The absence of a mass workers’ party with any coordinates orientated toward socialism rendered extra-parliamentary forms of action as the only forms of activity available to revolutionaries. But the limitations of these forms, their inability to scale up to the management of society or to escape their own minoritarianism, quickly became apparent in the defeats and repression that the extra-parliamentary movements encountered in the immediate years preceding 2010. Most significant of these expressions was the global Occupy movement, whose desire to coordinate dissent, while also experimenting with new forms of popular public sovereignty, would provide an important touchstone for what would later become Corbynism.
While public debate and the participatory politics that underpinned the Occupy movement could arguably organise and reproduce life within the setting of a public square, they seemed totally incapable of the task of scaling up to meet the challenges of coordinating life at the level of society (as such, the collapse of Occupy would lead to an intense period of regroupment and reformulation for socialists the world over). One response, emanating from within the movements of the countries around the Mediterranean basin, would be the emergence of new political parties that were predicated on a resistance to austerity while experimenting with the new models of democratic participation embodying the spirit of Occupy; such as Podemos and Barcelona en Comú. In countries with more pluralistic parliamentary systems, the new parties of the social movements would begin to emerge and make electoral gains.
In the UK, dominated as it is by two main parties and operating a ‘first past the post’ electoral system, a new party of the social movements would fail to emerge. However, the election of Jeremy Corbyn as Labour Party leader in 2015, the second of our events, would see many from the social movements rush toward the party, inspired in part by Corbyn and McDonnell’s principled socialism and their personal histories of solidarity with progressive and radical struggle. It’s worth noting that those of us entering the party from the ‘autonomous’ social movements didn’t do so in line with some sort of Marxist-Leninist entryist strategy, as others did, but in recognition that it was only the form of a mass party that was adequate of rising to the challenges presented to us by a fragmented working class base. Almost immediately the skills, the networks and the resources that had developed in the extra-parliamentary movements would be mobilised in support of Corbyn; the most notable result being ‘The World Transformed,’ an annual festival attached to the Labour party’s national conference – that sought to bring the extra-parliamentary left into a productive dialogue with the Labour Party itself.
The World Transformed (TWT) and new media organisations like Novara, the New Socialist and others have helped to create a vibrant socialist political culture that holds some intellectual hegemony over the wider movement. It can be in no doubt that the radical policy that underpinned the recent manifesto was itself a product of the encounters that TWT and others platformed. In effect, TWT, Novara, etc. have created and curated a particular form of Corbynism that we hold some affinity with. However, those who hold these politics have failed to cohere into an organised tendency that can actually live up to its radical potential. If you are not in a big city or university town with a vibrant activist community, how do you begin to implement the ideas that you have been exposed too? How do you even set the agenda of the debate yourself? And how do you become involved in the movement? The answer, unfortunately, is that ‘you don’t.’ It’s obvious that a small cadre of networked activists, movement gatekeepers, instagram influencers and Twitter commentators are not an adequate replacement for a class movement. However, things don’t have to be the way they currently are. There was once, and there still is, an opportunity for something that is radically different.
While Momentum’s campaign work has proven itself to be instrumental during the recent election campaign, its absence of any meaningful internal democracy has severely hindered the tendency we have just identified from developing into the force we need it to be.
By turning off its own internal democracy in order to outwit small yet coordinated groups of Trotskyite activists, Momentum denied its 40,000 members the possibility of a democratic organisation through which we could have coordinated a mass socialist regroupment. We argue that this absence of a socialist coordination significantly contributed to the losses we experienced on Thursday night. If we had used these years more productively, if we had been better coordinated nationally, with socialists utilising the party’s resources in order to make meaningful solidarity and to take meaningful action within working class communities, the right wing media assault may not have hit home as hard as it did. And that’s to say the least of what a democratic, collectively coordinated socialist movement could achieve under these conditions and with these resources.
We must recognise that our party has lost its organic connection with many in our class over the period of the last forty years. It’s also worth remembering that over 150,000 people have died due to austerity in the last decade, with many hundreds of thousands more penalised, disenfranchised and desperate due to the lack of any effective class organisation fighting for our interests. There will be families going to bed tonight scared – scared because of the ghouls who have been allowed to continue to govern our country. It’s time that these monsters also went to bed scared and we intend to be their fucking nightmare.
This is the task laid out before us, to coordinate and to bring together an existing tendency and to form it into a coherent force for class struggle – both within and outside of our party.
We are glad you have answered our call to create an organisation to achieve this task. Lets get on and make the movement our class needs.