Almost three years to the day Momentum Black ConneXions (MBC) formed in response to Jeremy Corbyn elected as leader of the Labour Party (LP). Shocked by his success, the Party immediately split between the right, (otherwise known as Blairites), and the Jeremy Corbyn Left who were now seen quite viciously as the hostile insiders trying to steal a party they thought, with a large dose of entitlement, belonged to them. Nevertheless, there was a real sense of change that spread through the entire country as if working-class communities were awakening from their capitalist slumber. MBC was a response to Black populations wanting to support Corbyn if not the Labour party itself. Memories of the party betrayal especially under Blair were still raw but we were encouraged by the values Corbyn espoused otherwise known as socialism. Momentum owned by Jon Lansman had already formed though MBC was structured as absolutely autonomous and independent. Faced with a working-class movement and the official leader of the opposition that called for equality, social justice, more council housing, the protection of the NHS, nuclear disarmament (initially), peace in foreign policy not to mention an increase in taxation for the ‘rich’, the force of the Tories together with the Blairites, was mighty. Never was the onslaught on the opposition leader so great. Nevertheless, Corbyn endured two votes of no confidence within the party and endless attacks on his integrity. The most impressive act of mainstream media together with other agencies was to successfully convince the nation that Corbyn was, in fact, a proponent of bigotry against Jews and Englishman killed by the IRA. The vilification of Corbyn has been relentless with the ex-leader of the Labour Party (Prime Minister) Tony Blair, Lord Mandelson and ex-spin doctor Alistair Campbell shamelessly leading the charge in undermining Corbyn at every opportunity. Corbyn’s refusal to return hatred in kind but to concentrate on the issues and policies was not reported as a sign of maturity but rather a confirmation of his apparent weakness as a leader. This was war and he needed to fire bullets, so to speak or in other words, to be like them especially politically. The problem was, he was elected and loved because he wasn’t like them. The nation was begging for something different.
Days after the 2019 national election that saw the Labour Party spectacularly fail to gain power, the worse since 1930 while creating the most radical of manifestos for the disadvantaged, one has to ask, what made some of the poorest of communities decide to vote against their own interests. We’re lead to believe that it was wrongfully judged because it was all about Brexit. This is problematic since it is not clear what in Brexit the working classes believed would serve them other than to just get it done? Understandably, respecting their vote was a crucial factor but Corbyn, unlike the LibDems, was not trying to undermine that either.
Back in 2016, some MBC members suggested Corbyn had already lost the psychological and political battle when he seemed to adopt a strategy of appeasement which presumed the powerful elite could be nullified through reasonableness or that the integrity of his position might nevertheless transmit through the media despite appreciating they were part of the apparatus. To coin an overused phrase, you can’t dismantle the master’s house using the master’s tools. The political machine, our parliamentary democracy, frames the two main political parties in a ‘first past the post’ system under a constitutional monarchy thus, Labour and Conservative have been playing musical chairs with our democracy since the 1920s. Naturally, the elite has a self- interest in the Conservative Party since they specifically protect their coffers. It is a fool’s paradise to believe capitalism gives to anything but itself and the whole point of the Tory party together with the machinery, is to prevent the masses revolting in order to take more. Thus, Corbyn had to find another way of communicating to his core constituency which was not merely the Labour Party membership or those that rushed into his inner circle. Tory membership currently stands at 180,000 while the interests of the poor, traditionally invested in the Labour Party has a membership of about 500,000. This number substantially increased under Corbyn but as you can see, very few people in the UK care about joining either of these 2 political parties when you consider the adult population in the UK is 52,403,344 (2018).
Corbyn had a choice to either continually submit himself to the political apparatus that had him either too hostile as an apparent anti-Semite and a supporter of the IRA or too weak for his non-aggressive approach to politics, particularly that in his unifying of the nation with regard to Brexit. There was nothing wrong with his position and it was a nonsense to suggest it was too complicated or unclear. However, if you have a media continually telling you over and over again that positioning oneself as an arbitrator is confusing or cowardly, of course, in the end, you are conditioned to want the referee to admit that he prefers one side over another. This was an unforgivable trivialising act by the media designed to undermine a return of agency to the population.
The LibDem’s unconditional commitment to ‘Remain in Europe’ like the Blairite stance makes it clear that this would not have improved Corbyn’s election results if the loss of their leader in Jo Swinson and Chuku Umunna, their Foreign Secretary, is anything to go by. The LibDems are left with 11 MPs, 1 less than before the election and since they are once again leader-less having exercised yet another abject, despicable ability to assist the Conservative Party, it truly is the time they disbanded once and for all. Dozens of seats could have been won by Labour particularly in constituencies such as Bridgend, Chingford, Keighley and Kensington had they not split that vote. Yet, nor is it to be ignored that our democratic first-past-the-post system that caused Boris Johnson to win with a heavy majority, only required him to achieve 43.6% per cent of the vote and only 1.2% more than Theresa May in 2018. How can that be in a true democracy?
Of course, the elite has controlled the dominant narrative throughout Corbyn’s leadership but there was still scope for him to go onto the offensive without being different to who he is. In fact, it was essential. One of the problems was that those surrounding Corbyn, like young Oxbridge careerists James Schneider, for example, for it presumed Oxbridge control was more important than community knowledge and experience. Why? Who did Corbyn want to speak to? Schneider like others, readily advised from the heights of the Momentum Tower that Ken Livingstone, who was the first target and causality of the right, should be immediately abandoned. This young man, as well as more experienced others who should have known better, did not understand why it was important to stand our ground. This was not in any way, about supporting antisemitism but about recognising that these allegations were part of an orchestrated attack that would not relent. Quite obviously it was a device for bringing down Corbyn which is why there was rarely a complaint of antisemitism against the Conservative Party. Apologising and recognising that there was antisemitism helped to cement in the minds of the population that Corbyn was, in fact, a bad man by his own admission. Again, this was not to ignore antisemitism but to contextualise it with much more force.
Moreover and with friendly critical honesty, the grievous error of Corbyn in not taking up vital Afrikan Heritage Community issues like Afriphobia and the United Nations International Decade for People of African Descent (UN-IDPAD), not directly engaging with grassroots Black Community activities like the May Afrikan Liberation Awareness Month (ALAM) and 25th May Afrikan Liberation Day celebrations, the 1st August Reparations March, and even community festivities like Kwanzaa, was fatal. His refusal to get the Labour Party to have a dialogue with the grassroots campaigning formations long advocating Pan-Afrikan Reparations for Global Justice, like the Stop the Maangamizi: We Charge Genocide/Ecocide Campaign (SMWeCGEC) and the Afrikan Emancipation Day Reparations March Committee (AEDRMC) was a serious opportunity lost. Failure to take up their All-Party Parliamentary Commission of Inquiry on Afrikan Reparatory Justice (APPCITARJ) demand in Parliament, while appearing to be flirtatiously toying with Reparations issues through pronouncements of the likes of Dawn Butler MP, was grossly miscalculated.
His refusal to meet with popular Black progressive politicians with huge global support networks like Julius Malema of South Africa, when he even tried visiting him in his office in London, was a mistake. Failure to more directly identify openly the likes of Indian MP Shashi Tharoor, Benny Wenda of West Papua, with all global south indigenous community leading activists fighting against ecocide and for decolonization, while singling out the Chagos Island issue and making vague promises about an inquiry into Colonialism, was not enough. Not highlighting Ecocide crimes wreaking the Global North exacerbating havoc of the Climate and Ecological Crises upon peoples of the Global South Majority World – all these negligences simply made a lot of ordinary non-politically savvy people who would have voted for him to doubt his commitment to seriously addressing such matters.
Corbyn also appeared not to have given the matter of voter education and registration the seriousness it deserves in Britain today, particularly among the huge numbers, indeed millions of disenchanted anti-establishment young and adult potential voters, whom the Tories preferred to encourage into apolitical obscurantism, most of whom such non-voting eligible voters predominate in our Black and migrant communities. By not utilising the Labour Party membership, especially its vibrantly energetic new Corbynista recruits, to go out into the grassroots nooks and crevices of the community and subaltern spaces where such Tory disenfranchised and disorientated millions are, was one of the worst mistakes of Corbyn, making him rely mostly on the old voting population which were unsure about him.
The old trade unions leadership who might be described as the labour aristocracy are essentially out of touch fat cats, who imprisoned Jeremy Corbyn in their stranglehold, keeping him away from direct real grassroots Community engagement. There seemed to be little recognition of the practical implications of the fact that Margaret Thatcher and Tory weakening of the unions, the pulling of the rugs of manufacturing industry from under the feet of workers in Britain, and anti-trade union legislation, have decimated and enfeebled the unions to the point that even most officially unionised workers do not actively participate in their own union activities, let alone bother about the political work of their own unions; so much so that, there is now greater potential for radical politics in the wide diversity of community groupings and spaces than in trade unions! Corbyn failed to grasp the fact of this serious reality, and therefore the need some now realise to more actively promote the new phenomenon of Community Unionism!
Internally, many pro-Corbyn Labour Party members lost their nerve immediately, ignoring, for example, Livingstone’s entire record for fighting racism which demonstrated especially to the right, that the Left was spineless. Corbyn supporters readily threw Livingstone under a bus because, as they told themselves, Livingstone just hadn’t helped himself. In fact, they didn’t really want to face the depth of courage nor had the stomach to face the Tory onslaught face-on that was needed to win. Those that did were also accused of antisemitism. Quite frankly, Labour Party members preferred to stay silent in the perverse belief that by keeping their powder dry and continually apologising for antisemitic racism that somehow, this would speak to local communities and ultimately the electorate?
A high proportion of the Labour Party membership is White middle-class liberals (Jewish or not) who responded in their normal way to racisms. Quiet inactivity. The point is, Corbyn’s strategy pandered to the few incredibly powerful bullies on the right and the slightly more Labour Party liberal members on the left but he did not pay sufficient attention to the 52 million adults in the country, those local community’s especially northern working-classes and ethnic minorities outside of that minuscule bubble. That 52 million that went largely ignored were hostages to mainstream media but were his constituency as distinct from the party membership. In essence, the other success of the elite was to ensure the oxygen supply was cut off from his message to the wider population. That was only possible by his distance from them in the first place.
Local communities that were political saw what could happen to Ken Livingstone with relative ease by, let us remember, the party itself in John Mann now Her Majesty’s Government’s Antisemitism Tsar, so realised the infrastructure to really fight for the rights of local communities whether Black, White or otherwise, was not really there. For example, the majority of Labour Party members and its’ officers do not actually engage with local communities and some that want to, don’t know how to. They prefer, and I could quote a number of councillors here, to report at ward meetings that local communities are just not interested despite the fact that they hold endless surgeries. Those councillors cannot grasp the fact, that they themselves are the impasse to a radical movement. Even in the name of Corbyn, they only engaged with communities to obtain their vote!!! As a councillor recently told me, he does not mind if they do not become Labour Party members. Of course not for he does not want local communities taking power from him and that is the system’s ultimate dilemma. It does not serve local councillors to empower the community because why even at local authority level, would the executive want to be overpowered?
So, what we learn in this moment of reflection is, as Carys Kettlety of Bristol West CLP states, we have to build upon what has developed through the Corbyn leadership by democratising the Labour Party so that an expansion of community organisation is emphasised. The party has to be willing to increase its working-class and ethnic minority membership to reflect the profile of those that vote for it. Selection of officers must go beyond the unofficial unspoken choices of White officers who quietly identify ‘suitable Black’ and other candidates that seem to be ‘co-operative’.
Of course, we need to introduce open-selections for all national and local candidates but just bear in mind that Momentum under Jon Lansman called for this while unilaterally undermining first choice MEP Claude Moraes (ethnic minority) in the European Elections because he personally preferred the very talented Laura Parker, Momentum’s national coordinator. This was reversed but months later, Momentum tried to do the same thing again by asserting Ms Parker would be representing Enfield North as their possible PPC (prospective parliamentary candidate), without bothering to consult the Enfield North CLP (Constituency Labour Party) itself. In any event, what can we say about an organisation such as Momentum that registered as a private limited company, owned by one man who sits on Labour’s National Executive Committee! Is that democracy or is that structurally the same as what we had with the private right-wing organisation called Progress?
Worse still, Professor Cecile Wright, a Black woman purporting to represent a constituency was conveniently chosen by Lansman as Vice-Chair of Momentum not only because of her limited political and social skills but because she demonstrated ‘masser loyalty’ after falsely alleging an assault on her by Black others to Lansman, rather than reporting the matter to the police or to African elders. Momentum in its private limited capacity felt entitled to pursue such an investigation into those apparent Black crimes. Why did Wright use the race card in this way? Because ‘Black Momentum’ needed to be created under Lansman’s steer to undermine and control the independent thinking and agency of MBC who were clearly seen as ‘difficult’ but to whom? What kind of democratisation does Momentum actually envisage for the future of the Labour Party because MBC is most certainly not aligned with the interests of that structure and if the party is truly to evolve from this moment holding tightly onto the values upheld by Corbyn, we must be willing to be much bolder in reaching out to our communities and to let them speak for themselves in a properly democratised system?
Finally, we pay tribute to Jeremy Corbyn. It is a testament to his work and endurance that he forced the right to embrace a very different public expenditure focus. His dignity and grace throughout this entire three-years is a lesson to us all and we critically commit to supporting the corrective strengthening of the Corbynista agenda of socialist orientation from the Black Radical Tradition track records of our freedom-fighting labour heroes and sheroes like Queen Nana of the Maroons, Dora Milaje, William Davidson, William Cuffee, James Archer, Akosua Boahemaa Amy Ashwood Garvey, Marcus Mosiah Garvey, George Padmore, CLR James, Claudia Jones, Paul Robeson, Osagyefo Kwame Nkrumah, Walter Rodney, Yusuf Daddoo, Obi Egbuna, Bernie Grant, Baba Ntumazah, Lester Lewis (aka Ntum Ba Aza), John La Rose, Richard Hart, Maurice Bishop and Dorothy Kuya to name a few.
Momentum Black ConneXions (MBC)