Guest post from my comrade Dora Polenta. The title is my own but summarises what I consider to be the considerable force of her argument
I find the concept of a “virtual conference” lifeless and unimaginative; as if we are surrendering ourselves to the fragmentary nature, isolation, atomisation and alienation imposed to us by this capitalist system. It feels like we are giving up on the collective memory and history of our struggles as has been imprinted to our structures and surrendering to the placebo hyper-reality of a house virtual socialism; searching for Pokemons…I find the concept of a virtual conference circumscribed, rigid, top down and inflexible as there is a very restricted repertoire of interactions and interventions, mode of communications imposed by the “media being the message” social media and platforms creating a symbiotic relationship by which the medium influences how the message is perceived.
I do not want a conference of emoji’s, smiley faces, angry red faces and thumps up. I want a rowdy conference of human beings, representatives of collectives, with all their concreteness physicality and materiality. A conference of jeering, booing, cheering, occasionally swearing and ultimately comradery and collectively building breaking and re building in an open ended way our collective identity…
I want a conference of human beings, with all of our gloriously and infuriatingly different perspectives, dispositions, talents, personalities and madnessess navigating together and sketching our journey within the borders of the neighbourhood of sense. A conference of all of us that see politics not as a technique and scope of manoeuvre of what is “feasible|” within the suffocating straight jacket of their normality, but view politics as an art in itself and of itself, as the ability to make the impossible possible, the possible inevitable and the inevitable inescapable concrete reality. The socialist revolution is not timely is ever present: in the possibility of widespread destabilization, breakage of regularity, the emergence of the imagination and creativity of the collective doing.
I would not like to add anything on assessing the 3rd of December Momentum NC meeting. Other comrades, Momentum National Committee members and Marxian organised collectives have already done that from a first/third person perspective coherently and concisely. I would like to cast some random incoherent, unfocused and raw thoughts. At some points/sentences, I will be using borrowed words and quotations as my mouth is currently dry and some of my thoughts (the most persistent ones) are still resting on the realm of non-verbalised experience…
Maybe, it is my instinctive reaction and immunity against the atomisation of OMOV “horizontal e-democracy”; from participating and being a partaker within organisations that operate under the “wooden” “luddite” parochial “pre-internet revolution” democratic centralism. You see some very “educated” journalists like Paul Mason and Owen Jones would have us believed that if Lenin was borne within the context of Facebook, Twitter, OER, www, virtual reality, augmented reality, hyper-reality etc. democratic centralism, revolutionary parties etc. would not be part of our lexicons and ammunitions of struggle; we would all be enjoying our socialist virtual reality from the comfort of our own home fooling the senses and fooling the mind…
I feel fully represented by the contributions and analysis of my AWL comrades. I believe in communities, collectives, extended identities and not in the Thatcherite conception/dystopia of a country of fragmented atomised individuals …I am going to defend the delegate based under mandates and accountable to our local and regional Momentum groups ‘real-face to face’ physical and concrete conference (against Foucault’s heterotopia of a virtual conference) first of all by detaching myself from a Marxian analysis and references. By using the concept of organic unity. Or as a Greek the Aristotle quote ‘“The whole is greater than the sum of its parts.” Just think of any great rock group-the Beatles, Led Zeppelin, the Spice girls, take your pick, and even as good the members of those bands maybe something special was created when they recorded and performed together. The four lads from Liverpool certainly created some fantastic music on their own after their band broke up, but few would say any of it compares to the collective output.
The same happens when we are partakers within an organised Marxian collective/ within our local union/ within our community; when we are partakers of the active/ live/ dialectic movement that daily negates the existing order striving for human emancipation. I am not talking here about enlightened vanguards (although I am humbled to refer to most of the AWL members as my comrades as they enlighten all the shadows of my existence)…I am talking about being part of this “critical mass” of people, being fully aware that “Without a guiding organisation, the energy of the masses would dissipate like steam not enclosed in a piston box. But nevertheless, what moves things is not the piston or the box but the steam”.
Every time we are having a paper sale, every time we are having a 5 person meeting in the backroom of a noisy, not anymore smoky but staled by the smell of alcohol pub, something magic happens….This magic exceeds and supersedes its parts…crosses the boundaries between “Is” and “Not Is” creates a collective “We” and enrichens our “Is “ ..
I am appealing to the “mystified and fascinated” by the e-democracy Momentum comrades to the “carriers” of the supposedly New (against the Old) not to discard the history of our red thread of struggles as embedded in our democratic structures and formations…
I am not appealing to the two new self-appointed narcissistic ideological leaders of Momentum, who admittedly have not attended the NC Meeting and one of them has not attended any Momentum meeting: Paul Mason and Owen Jones. These two journalists (who unjustifiably so have enjoyed numerous standing ovations and shared platforms with the “irrelevant dinosaurs of the Trotskyist hard left”) have unleashed an unpreceded attack and sometimes personal slander against comrades from the revolutionary Left utilising “Red Scare” stereotypes that even Tom Watson would have been proud of…From Jon Lansman’s “Trotskyists are not running the party in Momentum” and his axiomatic “Momentum has proven Trotskyists to be an historical irrelevance” we have now the Owen Jones mantra about “real” Trotskyists (not virtual reality ones) attempting to take over Momentum and control it for their own malign “sectarian” aims.
They have both become the defenders of the “younger, idealistic, campaign-oriented” “movementists” against the crusty old sectarians.
Most interestingly they conduct their “debate”, not through the digital platform and e-democracy portal of Momentum, not in the space of virtual reality but in the “real” space of mainstream media (liberal or not) and publications. They are the defenders of the horizontal structure of a social (quasi virtual) movement of OMOV against the “bureaucratic-factionalism” and “top-down structures of the hard left that alienates the younger Momentum members”…However there is not a hint of horizontal, participatory, inclusive, equalitarian, direct democracy in the “Red Intellectual semi celebrity” approach that they are conducting the debate…
I must admit that I have read a lot of quasi scientific social engineering human geography analysis on the electoral results on political believes etc etc I have recently comatose myself on the “BREXIT analysis” and I must have read a surplus of newspapers supplements…but nothing compares, in terms of being binary, rigid, stereotypical and therefore idiotic, to the exploratory tool of the NC Momentum meeting as a struggle of the “old (of age bitter and Machiavellian hard left Trotskyist zombies of the fourth international) against the new young enthusiastic direct action Momentum activist …
Finally, on the red herring dichotomy between horizontal and vertical structures on the dichotomy between direct participatory inclusive movementism democracy and bureaucratic factionalism exclusive takeover of Monentum for their own purposes by the hard left; forgive me if I am wrong but I have not experienced the celebration of direct democracy and being partaker in the decision making structures so far; if I have to visualise my experience of the stream of emails on campaigning and other info from the National Momentum headquarters and from the Momentum regional meetings, I would definitely draw a vertical line with no points of accountability mandates and delegation but of a collection of self-appointed leaders that are exercising politics as a perverse of the few (albeit Leftist few) behind closed doors….
I am going to sum up using partly borrowed words:
On one side is Jon Lansman and others who are pushing for an organisation and national conference build upon internet-based “direct democracy”; advocating an internet-based, “horizontal” method of organisation, in favour of “clicktavim” and social media bypassing the structures and living memory of the working class movement. On the other are a range of activists – young and old – advocating the best democratic traditions of the labour movement: face-to-face discussion at meetings, with elected delegates accountable to local groups.
Those of us advocating a delegate-based conference, with motions submitted from local branches, affiliates, and liberation groups, and elected delegates discussing and voting on all motions.
Jon Lansman e-democracy vision of a conference, what is actually being proposed by Jon Lansman is a “conference” entirely ran by MxV (Momentum’s “digital democracy platform). This bypasses every existing structure of Momentum. Under these proposals, local and regional groups will have effectively zero say in how Momentum functions. It represents an attempt to position Momentum as a top-down body, nominally guided by all-member ballots on predetermined or safely incidental questions. Momentum should be a true grassroots movement, and a “conference” along the proposed lines would represent the end of that movement, or at least create a solid wall blocking it off from any national representation.
In pretending to oppose the “take over” of Momentum by “sectarians”, what these various leading figures are actually doing is supporting the defence of the control of the agenda by those who already have a prominent voice. People like Owen Jones and Jon Lansman, due to their status within the Labour movement, are able to put their ideas to a vast audience. And when people do not meet others in face-to-face democratic meetings, they become atomised and can be more easily influenced solely by these individuals, whose politics are those of timidity and compromise.
At root, this is not a struggle between “movementists” and “sectarians”, but one between those who wish for Momentum to be merely a “social movement” that carries out sporadic activism and campaigning, and those who want Momentum to be an organisation that has as its primary goal the transformation of the Labour Party into a mass political movement that fights for the working class.
Rather than rendering its membership nothing more than passive “clicktivists”, Momentum should be organising activists; educating and training members to become leaders in the Labour movement and in the fight for bold socialist ideas.
Revolutionary socialists must indeed be in the labour movement on pain of sterility. They must also on pain of a different sort of sterility be autonomous — retaining the will and the ability to promote workers’ and young people’s struggles which take place outside of, and outside the tempo of, the existing labour movement. Serious socialists do not, like the sectarians, try to “build the party” irrespective of and wilfully apart from the labour movement and the working class, but, equally, we do not sink the revolutionary group into the rhythms and norms of a labour movement which is not revolutionary and which involves only a minority of the working class. That is as much a recipe for suicide as the antics of the sectarians — by an overdose of sleeping pills rather than an excess of ‘acid’, or some other sectarian hallucinogenic.
As for our party structures… the Workers’ Party USA of the ‘40s, rejecting JP Cannon’s idea of a semi-monolithic party, presents us with one of the best models of how the Marxists should organise — the way in fact that Lenin’s party organised. Of course, the majority at a given moment has to set the politics and the organisational goals of the organisation, and democratically elected officials have to be given authority to direct work day-to-day. Within that framework, without which the organisation would be nothing but a talking shop, there has to be full democratic freedom of opinion and freedom to express that opinion.
Socialists must be: the representatives of the movement’s future, active in the here and now to carve out that future. James Connolly said it well: “The only true prophets are those who carve out the future they announce”.
Amplifying the creative activity of Marxists as an organised force in the future evolution of the mass labour movement…