A Key Part of Tom Watson's 'Trotsky' Evidence Comes from Labour's Leading Right Wing Think Tank
Are Watson's concerns of "entryism" legit, or is he creating a red-scare?
The evidence Tom Watson has sent to Jeremy Corbyn about "Trotsky entryists" rushing into Labour included a 240-word document which he claimed was a Corbynista must-read – a Trotskyite "Guide to take control of Labour meetings". This text apparently being passed around Momentum meetings is reportedly an extract from a book by Channel 4 News's arch piss-taker Michael Crick about Militant, a sizeable "Trotsky entryist" group which was expelled from the Labour Party in 1991. But in fact the text is written by Richard Angell, the director Labour's leading Blairite think tank, Progress.
Earlier in August, Tom Watson said that Labour left group Momentum involved "old hands twisting young arms" because "that's how Trotsky entryists operate". Corbyn's campaign team said Watson was "peddling baseless conspiracy theories", so Watson sent a dossier of evidence.
The letter Watson sent on 10th August ends with a flourish:
"Finally, I attach a document that I am reliably informed is being shared between Momentum members with links to far-left parties."
The document outlines a "Guide to take control of Labour meetings".
According to Watson's letter, Momentum seem to want to take over the Labour Party by making meetings unbearably boring.
The guide says:
"First, make the meetings boring... This turns off the faint-hearted. Those with better things to do — attend to their family, careers or community groups,"
Then, add some aggro to meetings to make them unpleasant places to be:
"Part two: make the event adversarial... This behaviour basically reduces the attendance of the remaining sensible types. Then the meeting [is] ours to control."
Then the final "pièce de résistance": pass motions once the "troublesome moderates" are "out of the way".
Momentum said they did not recognise the document. That is no surprise: it actually comes from the website of Progress, Labour's leading Blairite group. The text matches, word for word, an extract of an article by Progress director Richard Angell, published in September 2015.
That article was a review of a book written by Michael Crick in 1984 about Militant, a sizeable "Trotsky entryist" group which was expelled from the Labour Party in 1991. The passage in question sees Angell summarising what Crick wrote.
The idea that Momentum would be sharing an extract from a Michael Crick book is a bit weird. But the idea that they're sharing a Progress document about how bad Militant were in the 1980s is hard to credit. But so far nobody in the press has picked up the source of the supposed guide. I asked Watson who "reliably" informed him Momentum were guided by documents from Progress, but got no reply.
I asked Angell, who has previously described Corbyn as "a disaster", if he had any idea of how his text had become a guide for Momentum. Angell did not offer any suggestions, but did say, "I share Tom Watson's concerns about the infiltration of far-left groups like the Alliance of Workers Liberty, the Socialist party and TUSC into the Labour Party."
Progress and Momentum are opposite sides of the party divide – in some ways, they are mirror images. Progress was founded out of Tony Blair's 1995 Labour leadership campaign, and runs on £250,000 per year from Labour's Lord Sainsbury, an heir to the supermarket fortune. Momentum was formed in 2015 from Corbyn's Labour leadership campaign. Leading Progress member Tristram Hunt joked that Progress were an "unaccountable faction dominated by a secretive billionaire", which is how many on the Left of the party see the organisation. Conversely, many on Labour's "moderate" wing are deeply suspicious of Momentum, fearing it will help de-select "New Labour" MPs and replace them with more Corbyn-friendly candidates.
In its entirety, some of the evidence Watson cites is somewhat less dubious. There really are Trotskyite groups operating on the left in this country – I should know. Full disclosure: I was in the SWP 20 years ago. But a lot of it is pretty flimsy, relying on tiny groups – say the AWL, which has 120 members, and would have to be working pretty damn hard to twist thousands of young arms.
Michael Crick himself said that "We may be seeing entryism once again, but its on a far smaller scale than Labour experienced in the 1980s".
Which raises the question – why raise a big "red scare" over such misleading or minor evidence? It almost seems that some leading Labour MPs have given up on Owen Smith's leadership challenge, and want to throw question marks over the result, as part of a continuing effort to reduce Labour members' influence over their own party.
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