“Since there are socialists in America but no socialist movement, it is understandable that the socialists will say, “Let us go and form a socialist movement.” All considerations argue for this obvious step, and there are no arguments against it: except one. This is the fact – historical fact – that no one can decide to “make” a revolution. Whatever is formed by fiat will turn out to be a sect alongside the other sects, even if it is that better kind of sect which believes in not being sectarian.” Hal Draper (Anatomy of the micro-sect)
On December 14th 2019 - in the wake of the Labour Party’s election defeat the previous day - over 100 people convened at Westminster University in London for the inaugural public meeting of Labour Transformed. Less than two years later, the organisation would no longer exist. Though Labour Transformed left little in the way of a meaningful legacy, it is always worth attempting to understand why any organisation failed, and whether there are any meaningful lessons to draw from its demise. Perhaps the most interesting aspect of this project was that the organisation did not come into being via a split from a parent organisation, and therefore, had no heritage, institutional baggage, or indeed existing political positions. In this sense, Labour Transformed was an attempt to create something new. Nevertheless, it encountered many of the old problems, which will be familiar to those on the left who have tried to build something - we necessarily labour under adverse conditions: lacking time, resources and institutional support. This goes without saying.
Instead of musing on these inauspicious circumstances, this long overdue post mortem (late November 2021 was the last engagement by either author), will describe the core dynamics and the history of the organisation - as succinctly as possible - in an attempt to identify the tendencies that led to what can only be described as a failure, despite the commendable efforts of a number of people. We then attempt to locate the universal from the particular by looking at whether these dynamics were limited to Labour Transformed, or symptomatic of political organising in the absence of a movement.
What follows is based on the involvement of the authors, interviews with those who had significant roles in the organisation at various stages, and attempts to identify the universal from the particular. We are not concerned with any individual failings, but with the structures that facilitated these failures.The potted history that follows will no doubt have missed a number of details, and may leave some of those involved unhappy. Others will have their own perspectives and it would be useful if this piece sparks off a wider dialogue.
There is no agreement among its initial organisers as to why Labour Transformed (LT) was created - ask the 10 or so founders and you’re likely to get 10 different answers. However, the unifying affect among those involved was a collective frustration with the Corbyn project, its inability to build a movement around its leader and the failures of Momentum and the Labour Party itself to produce participatory organisational forms. Many were dissatisfied with being used as a Labour Party grunt, with little agency beyond knocking doors for local candidates and entering futile arguments in Labour Party branch meetings. There was a desire to do more and be more, albeit with no clear, shared idea of what that actually meant. As the Corbyn project collapsed after the 2019 General Election, many felt with a sense of urgency that, without an organisational form, the left would disintegrate.
An assumption that informed LT was a belief in the existence of a coherent political ‘tendency’ within Corbynism, which was fostered by both the entry of new people into the party and the new institutions that had sprung up around the project, such as Novara Media, the think thank Autonomy and, principally, the annual political education festival, The World Transformed. The politics of this nascent tendency were read as asserting a distinct ideology that was broadly libertarian and critical of labourism (conceived broadly as the primacy of socialism over party). Labour Transformed hoped to capture this embryonic tendency, of which a high level of political coherence was presumed, and nurture it into an organised force. It was because this theory gave such importance to the role of The World Transformed as the mother of this would-be faction that the name Labour Transformed was chosen.
Some of the organisers of Labour Transformed had previously been involved in an effort to set up a so-called “radical policy network”, which aimed to draw together some of the new left-wing think tanks, as well as prominent individuals within them. Once this failed, some members of this embryonic group joined with others in the orbit of The World Transformed festival and regulars of Fleet Street’s Mayday Rooms. Initially, they intended to produce a consciousness-raising satirical magazine. However, the fast-changing political situation in the UK, including the early warning signs of a general election, such as Boris Johnson's proroguing of parliament in the summer of 2019, convinced the group that they needed to move straight on to forming a political tendency, forsaking any work to lay the ideological foundations of an organisation.
The core group met regularly during the election period, discussing proposals around Momentum (the Labour Party adjacent left wing membership organisation), Labour Party policy, and Brexit. The group expanded in size as more people joined, based largely on personal connections and vague impressions of individual politics. Early meetings of this group discussed examples of extant (e.g. DSA and CPGB) and extinct (e.g. Big Flame) left-wing organisations to inform thinking about how this new organisation would be structured. Despite this focus on organisational structure over political coherence, no clear structure would be carried through by the time of that first public meeting on December 14th, and political differences emerged between individuals even at this early stage.
That first meeting was by and large successful in terms of turnout and enthusiasm for the project. Over 100 people turned up, with many venting their frustrations with Corbynism in the open session, and others questioning what Labour Transformed was specifically supposed to be. Those who were sceptical would get no clear answers on the day, although many would leave with enough interest to want to see where it would go. The composition of the meeting was largely Labour Party-adjacent, with the unaffiliated joined by members from various Trotskyist groupings, keen to see what all the fuss was about. Various members of what was being called the National Organising Group (hereafter, NOG) spoke on the necessity of rallying the left in the wake of the disastrous general election result, with the audience split into working groups in the afternoon to discuss potential action around various topics including the Labour Party, Momentum, the Trade Unions, Extra-parliamentary organising and Anti-imperialism. The NOG-working group structure would go on to be the core relation of Labour Transformed until its end.
A second in-person meeting had a much lower attendance and would follow the same structure with questions from the floor, brief talks from the NOG, and breaking into working groups. This second meeting was far more sombre, as the reality of the 2019 election defeat had set in. The primary discussion topic, as decided by the organisers, was the organisation's structure; seeking approval from attendees on constitutional matters, such as membership, local groups etc. Arguably, the group put the cart before the horse, as these proposals presupposed a fairly high level of engagement with an organisation that, at this stage, only existed on paper. Paradoxically, attendees weren’t given ways to meaningfully engage with the organisation: infrastructure to facilitate participation didn’t exist; members didn’t know how decisions were made or how to become more involved; the organisation had no clear mission statement; NOG members were unknown and unapproachable.
Between these meetings, working groups had been put into group WhatsApps, as well as a larger group chat containing all attendees. These WhatsApp groups would provide the basic structure of the organisation. Although a woefully inadequate means of structuring a membership organisation, Labour Transformed persisted in this form for the majority of its existence and this bare infrastructure facilitated frequent online meetings and reading groups.
The UK’s Covid lockdowns kicked in in March 2020 and everything was driven online. During the first lockdown, many in the LT network would attend its online meetings on the Labour Party, Anti-Imperialism, Trade Unions and Momentum. This participation was largely driven by a novel abundance of free time experienced by those now on state benefits or furloughs, as well as those able to work from home. As such, this engagement would not persist past the end of the lockdown. Furthermore, with in-person meetings and political actions off the table, all the attendees could do was talk, with these meetings primarily acting as a stand-in for the loss of social life everyone was experiencing.
Although some notable - if minor - achievements were made in this exclusively digital period, and the organisation reached its high water mark for engagement, Labour Transformed struggled to move beyond online discussion group status. Moreover, some of the patterns that would lead to the organisation’s final impasse were introduced here. As the involvement of many of the core members was fleeting, vital administrative functions became concentrated in two individuals. This not only gave them a problematic amount of informal power but also put an enormous amount of psychological pressure on the two running the organisation behind the scenes. They would both later exit the organisation citing mental health issues caused by this unmanageable responsibility - an experience that others would undergo not long after.
Many types of organisation have a clearly defined raison d’etre. A union mediates between workers and bosses; a think tank produces research on a specific topic; a campaign lobbies those in power to advocate for its position. A political organisation, such as a socialist party or sect, is different. Its function, in the long term, is to bring about socialism (whether in some sort of vanguardist role, or some more ill-defined manner). However, its function in the immediate term, in the absence of any semblance of power, is unclear. What inevitably happens is that this organisation becomes an end in itself. Without the ability to affect meaningful change, the expansion and reproduction of the organisational form (and that tends to include the reproduction of existing hierarchies), becomes the entire focus of the organisation, with the only metric of success that matters being raw membership numbers. In 1979, Henri Simon termed this phenomenon “willed organisation”:
“Willed organisation is that which we wish to operate (in joining or creating it) in relation to certain pre-established ideas coming from our belonging to a milieu, for the permanent defense of what we think is our interest. To do this, we get together with a limited (often very limited) number of people having the same pre-occupation. The nature of this organisation is, in its aim defined by those who work thus together, for themselves and for others, that of permanence, in which is inscribed a system of references from which one can deduce the practical modes of operating. ln other words, a certain body of ideas leads to certain determined forms of action: more often than not a limited collectively speaks to and acts towards a larger one, in a direction which is inevitably that of people who "know" (or think they know) towards those ''who do not know" (or know imperfectly) and who must be persuaded.” - Henri Simon (Some thoughts on Organization).
There is both an admirable sense of agency and a foolish vanity to this process. On the one hand, as communists, we must believe that we can radically alter the world we live in. On the other, to assume we can huddle together with a small network of the familiar and like-minded, and brute-force our way to a mass movement through the novelty of our ideas can only be described as foolhardy, particularly when linked with a failure to attempt to understand why the left political landscape is littered with tiny sects that have never managed to scale the heights outlined in their own statements. The tendency towards party creation is reminiscent of the XKCD “Standards” cartoon. We keep creating these spaces in which to bring together the “movement”, whilst failing to interrogate the form and content of said movement (if indeed it even exists!). What makes the case of Labour Transformed interesting, is that there was no coherent body of ideas to determine forms of action. Whereas many organisations begin life as a body of ideas shared by a network of individuals who come together - as Simon describes - and then attempt to build a membership and a resource base, Labour Transformed began life with no difficulty in getting bodies in the room, but with no coherence beyond a frustration with the Labour Party-adjacent left. After the enthusiasm of the large early meetings, those involved in whatever capacity were left wondering what to actually do now that an organisation had been brought into existence.
It is not hard to predict what happens in these scenarios. Individuals - both from the “membership” and from the NOG - simply dropped away. Since there was no formal membership and no shared identity or binding set of politics, as well as a lack of the bonds of solidarity developed through familiarity (this was partially a consequence of covid shifting all interactions online), this would prove an easy decision for most, often without even letting anyone know. Within a few months of that first meeting in December 2019, perhaps only one working group was meeting regularly, and that was a reading group. The WhatsApp chats sparked into life every time a new Labour Party-related scandal broke forth, occasionally resulting in long debates with interlocutors talking past one another. But that was all.
A post-hoc political imposition
With the organisation flailing, one of the remaining NOG members took it upon themselves to draft a political basis for the organisation. This was taken up by others, with an agreement that each working group would draft a section based on their focus. The NOG would then add an introduction, blend the sections together, and put the document to the membership to ratify. It is a curious challenge, to attempt to impose a set of politics on an organisation. Yet, because the majority of those that had been involved had disengaged, the process was completed relatively quickly. In total, the document had sections on Socialism, Class, Labour Party, Trade Unions and Anti-imperialism. The first two of these were written by NOG members as part of the introduction. The Labour Party section was written by two individuals - one already a NOG member, while the other would later join - as was the Trade Union section; the anti-imperialism section was co-written by four individuals, three of whom would end up on the NOG. The crucial point here is that this was the work of a small number of individuals, who actually shared little political coherence among themselves. In actuality, much of Simon’s assertion held for Labour Transformed - minus the necessary level of coherence! When the document was put to the “membership”, the response was largely muted, though some criticised certain parts, with the NOG privately indignant about those who had refused to involve themselves in the process of writing it now wanting to stamp their mark.
The document itself - no longer available online, though reprinted here - is a testament to the enduring incoherence of Labour Transformed. It was an admirable effort to find consensus among individuals who had engaged in little theoretical work together. Despite this, the result was a set of definitions and narrow statements that had little in the way of strategic implications for any potential membership. If you were a socialist who espoused rank-and-file trade unionism, recognised a need to engage with the Labour Party whilst rejecting labourism, espoused anti-imperialism (again, all as defined by a small number of individuals), while also tolerating para-academic chatter about class composition, you were good to go. At no point during its writing did anyone question what the stakes were. What were the implications of these definitions? What was at stake with the writing of this document? Who was going to be affected, and how? Instead, an attempt to impose political coherence from above resulted in a rather confused document that contained much to agree with, but little to take forward.
The document was eventually made available online, coinciding with the organisation’s first public meeting - still online due to covid - in several months. Again, turnout was positive, with almost 100 attendees. In a bid to make the organisation more than just a talking shop, a Slack space was set up, with the influx of new “members” expected to join what was to become the main hub for organisational matters. This garnered disappointing results. The Slack recreated the inconsistent and unequal participation dynamics of the WhatsApp groups, whereby a small group of conversationally dominant individuals were flanked by a greater mass of online lurkers.
This is probably the point where Labour Transformed would more readily be categorised as a sect, though lacking many of the vital bonds that enable sects to endure. Membership was now predicated on agreement with the political basis document. But even with this new political platform, working groups sputtered along with fluctuating attendance that was clearly trending downward. The more active new members wanted more accountability from the NOG and elections. The impulse was understandable. With no codified structure the NOG ultimately wielded total power within the organisation, particularly where the vast majority of the membership’s relationship with the organisation was, at large, transactional - you turn up to a meeting if the topic is of interest, and check out again until something else strikes your fancy. In response, the NOG put together a constitution, outlining roles and duties, as well as setting a timetable for NOG elections. The constitution largely formalised the current structure. Working groups had autonomy to do as they pleased within the broad confines of the political basis, whilst administrative functions and final say on published material were the responsibility of the NOG. Each working group would elect a delegate, and it was these delegates that would together make up the NOG, allowing for a direct line of communication between the NOG and constitutive parts of the organisation. Farcically, every single candidate for delegate positions stood unopposed. Engagement remained chronically low, with a small number of individuals occupied with bureaucratic tinkering whilst the organisation at large had clearly been comatose for a considerable time. Yet Labour Transformed limped on. With a couple of exceptions, the majority of working groups did not convene again. Those that did were limited to reading groups, a useful endeavour, though not one that requires the baggage of a political organisation.
The Momentum refounding process
Other than the political basis document, the only public-facing output was a platform of proposals submitted to the Momentum refounding process - a deliberative process where members would be able to submit proposals to radically alter the political and structural foundations of the organisation. The Labour Transformed platform was centred around the problem of the total disconnect between the national decision-making body and local groups. It is too much of a tangent to delve into here, though some of the logic behind this platform is discussed in an article published in New Socialist, available here. Once more, it is notable that this platform was the work of very few individuals, less even than the Political Basis Document. Though there was an attempt to encourage both NOG and working group members to join in the process of thinking through and writing the suite of proposals, this was not taken up. What resulted was the product of a limited number of individuals given a level of legitimacy by its link to an organisation. This is of course not a problem limited to Labour Transformed. As far back as 1911, Robert Michels was highlighting the tendency towards bureaucratic control and informal power that develops as leaders are detached from the membership that they use for their legitimacy. The platform ultimately was not taken up by Momentum, though it is hard to say how its deliberative process worked out in practice as it was conducted behind closed doors. To date, the refounding proposals that were voted on by members still have not been enacted by Momentum. The NOG stopped meeting not long after this.
The organisation’s reproductive function had become an intolerable burden on the one or two members trusted with administrative functions. Its only real activity - to reproduce itself to host a set of discussion groups - was no longer feasible. There is no set date when those who were still active decided Labour Transformed was finished. People dropped out, sometimes communicating their decision, more often, they simply ceased to engage.
The election of Jeremy Corbyn as leader of the Labour Party in 2015 was a formative moment for a generation of young, politically disenfranchised soon-to-be activists. The most notable measure of this surge was the doubling in Labour Party membership, up to half a million. There was also the establishment of left institutions including those already mentioned, whilst a number of left sects diverted their attention and efforts to the cause of Corbynism. When it all ended, in the aftermath of the 2019 general election defeat, the prevailing narrative was one of betrayal: the wilting on antisemitism and the backing of a second EU referendum remained points of fracture. More absurdly, a focus on the overwhelming bias of the British media against Corbyn, and the interference of the Labour Party machinery were - and continue to be - treated in terms of betrayal, rather than the expected behaviour of those who are fundamentally enemies. Although several analyses of the fallout were published, their scope was largely constrained within the immediate events of the last decade. Attempts to contextualise Corbynism within broader left history were few and far between. Nairn’s quip that the British Left has been notably averse to thinking critically about itself rings as true as ever. It was into this nadir of Corbynism that Labour Transformed came into being, and it is, therefore, worth dwelling on Corbynism briefly.
What were the models of change that underpinned Corbynism? The straightforward parliamentary route involved winning at the ballot box through a combination of a popular manifesto and an influx of members into the Labour Party. This strategy was never really tractable. Even had Corbyn won a general election he would have had no majority to actualise his manifesto. Even with a Labour Party majority in parliament, he would have inevitably faced numerous MPs in his own party acting as a vocal opposition. Adam Przeworski laid out the counter-argument to this strategy in Capitalism and Social Democracy. In the absence of a majority working class within society, any political programme will either have to be significantly diluted to appeal to a broad enough base, or it simply will not be enacted. Indeed, the Labour Party is a site of popular frontism for the left - an attempt to produce a progressive coalition large enough to win out in a two-party system. Leon Trotsky’s critique of popular frontism as a cross-class alliance that will inevitably dilute any class-based programme rings as true today as it did when first posited in the 1930s.
Others saw this parliamentary bottleneck as part of a wider strategy to build the left. Inevitably, Corbyn would be hampered at every turn, thus radicalising members towards a more revolutionary position. Quotes from Left Wing Communism: An Infantile Disorder would often accompany this position. Lenin famously argued that an embryonic British communist party must support the Labour Party, for when the latter inevitably betrayed the working class, the masses would rally around the former. The major assumption of this model of change is the existence of a revolutionary party equipped to take advantage of such a shift. The British left was - and remains - both small and disorganised, and, in a grimly ironic twist, Momentum - the largest left-wing organisation in the country - had Labour Party membership as one of its own terms of membership, limiting it to little more than a Labour Party campaigning vehicle.
A final model of change simply suggested that Corbynism - win or lose - would build the movement. This approach was inevitably vague - both in terms of what this change would look like and indeed what the movement itself was. It is true that Corbynism saw a whole new generation engaged in parliamentary politics. This section began by touching on the emergence of new Labour Party-adjacent organisations that accompanied Corbyn’s election to Labour Party leader in 2015, such as Momentum and The World Transformed. In the 3 years since the 2019 general election defeat, most have seen their memberships collapse, or are struggling to keep afloat. In these circumstances, the reproduction of the organisation dominates its functional role within any movement. Indeed, there is often no way for members of an organisation - nevermind a broader movement - to influence the direction in which it is headed, particularly in times when the very existence of the organisation is in jeopardy. Every argument for structural change is shouted down as navel-gazing. The concern is always with the political sphere, whether there is the power to affect it or not. What we end up with is a somewhat circular logic. First, the political takes precedence: win or lose, Corbynism would build the movement. However, without the movement in the first place, Corbynism neither had the sort of mass base that might counter the media and political onslaught nor could any of the structures that built up around Corbynism ever be held accountable to anyone beyond the small cliques that controlled them.
In the final accounting, Corbynism had no coherent model of change and none that were gamed out in any open, collective manner. The concern was always the immediate - the latest media smear or the latest round of Prime Minister’s Questions. After the 2019 General Election, a huge activist base existed, with no space to absorb it. Labour Transformed came into existence, offering this space, but with clearly no coherence itself. The trajectory of the organisation highlights this clearly. In the absence of any political line, an organisation can be all things to all people. The initial high engagement stemmed from a collective understanding that a serious political project was required. Inevitably, this began to wane as individuals saw that others had very different ideas from themselves. This drift became a deluge as the organisation attempted to cohere itself, with many seeing that the ideas on which this coherence would be predicated were not in line with their own. If Labour Transformed was supposed to be an antidote to Momentum’s lack of a political line, it merely replicated this tendency, without the resource or capacity possessed by a membership-funded organisation with 10s of thousands of members. This brings us to the question of whether things could have been different.
What is the point of your political project?
“The purpose of a system is what it does.” Stafford Beer
Let us imagine a different Labour Transformed. One that had launched its first public meeting with a fleshed-out political programme and a clearly delineated structure. Could this organisation have been a success? First, we must define success. For many political organisations success merely looks like stability - the ability to reproduce itself, and an upward trajectory in terms of membership numbers. Within this framework, Labour Transformed might well have been able to meet this threshold. However, if your only goal is organisational reproduction, in what sense are you even a political organisation, when you have no means of actually affecting the political? Reproduction is, of course, necessary and must be a minimum baseline, not a measure of success. Had Labour Transformed appeared on the public stage with political and strategic coherence, the receptive audience would prove narrower. Some might argue this is a good thing: a smaller, more focussed cadre. How might such a sect affect the political landscape in a revolutionary manner? Funds are limited because the number of dues-paying members is small, as is capacity in terms of human labour. This is the familiar model that leads to burnout, with little in the way of quantifiable gain.
It is significant that most revolutionary organisations lack a model of change that has anything close to falsifiability. Either their analysis is detached from the evolving conjuncture, or it is entirely reactive to it, losing historical and theoretical grounding. Falsifiability is going to be loose by its very nature here. Even when looking across the history of organisational forms our sample sizes are tiny, with far too many variables to account for. Yet the process of abstraction (of developing and applying categories) is a necessary part of theoretical development that informs future action. We cannot abandon this terrain because the process of developing models of reality, and constantly testing and adjusting them is the core of any dialectical or system theoretic approach to understanding the world.
This is a process Labour Transformed failed to engage with. In their essay, We unhappy few, the EndNotes collective traces the dilemmas of the “revolutionist” in a moment devoid of a revolutionary subject.
‘Separated from their fellow workers who don’t share their concerns, the “revolutionists” tend to unite outside of the workplace with others like themselves, people who are interested in changing society. Yet these groupings, in wishing to influence the class struggle in non-revolutionary circumstances, are faced with a dilemma: either they can have an effect but only by adapting themselves to the limits of the movement — thus no longer being revolutionary — or they can maintain their revolutionary principles but their intervention will thus be lacking in effect.’
Some organisations attempt to maintain a revolutionary position, whilst agitating within the non-revolutionary sites of political struggle. In these circumstances, an emphasis will often be placed on propaganda (which is one reason why “comms” has become so important on the left, at the expense of internal cohesion. It is how you are perceived externally that is likely to have a tangible effect on those previously mentioned barometers of success such as membership numbers). Indeed, one proposed function of Labour Transformed was to act as the left faction of Momentum, arguing for radical positions within a larger, better-resourced organisation. Without wishing to dive into a full structural analysis of Momentum, the absence of an active membership base capable of organising across branches, and unable to meaningfully affect national Momentum’s political positions, suggest that the “left faction” argument fundamentally misunderstood both the levers of power and membership engagement within Momentum. It is notable that this “left-faction” argument was still better thought out than any others. Any proposal to intervene in union struggles was clearly a non-starter when the union working group had never managed to get up and running, whilst the idea of Labour Transformed becoming a communist party - comparable to CPGB in the 1930s - was farcical considering the tiny number of people actually involved. What we have here are "bad" models, poor representations of the systems they describe, and because of the internal details of the organisation - lack of capacity, a political orientation ill-suited to stepping back and thinking through change, and a completely disengaged membership - there was no concerted effort to rigorously remodel these systems.
So if - as Beer suggests - the purpose of a thing is what it does, what did Labour Transformed do? What the organisation did well was run a number of well-attended and engaged reading groups. These were often rewarding experiences, with a mixture of introductory concepts and high-level discussion. It is important not to discount these groups and the effect they will have had on those involved. Hopefully, they will take on both the content and the largely good-natured and comradely tenor of these discussions into other projects. However, you clearly do not need the political and structural baggage of a political organisation to convene reading groups. Indeed, a loose collective of individuals running reading groups under a common banner would have been a more parsimonious and effective approach, without the need for a NOG to meet constantly and administer a husk of a membership organisation and mull over political intervention without any means to do so. Such a loose collective would probably still be operating, with minimum administrative overhead. The irony resides in the fact that of all the numerous conceptions of Labour Transformed, this was never one of them. Many things to many people, but always an attempt to change the world, not interpret it.
The failure of any endeavour to which one has dedicated considerable time and effort will necessitate some level of mourning. The revolutionary landscape is littered with the remains of organisations that began with all the hope and enthusiasm that comes with the horizon of radical change, whilst a number of zombie organisations lurch on, driven on by a shared identity and the law of sunk costs. Even in the worst-run organisations, there are people who work incredibly hard to keep these things afloat. We do not want to feel like our efforts have been in vain; that we have devoted years of our lives, countless evenings and weekends around our day jobs, and often at the expense of our other relationships, for an ultimately failed project. In the process of writing this post-mortem we interviewed numerous people involved in Labour Transformed: NOG members at different points in the organisation’s evolution, rank and file “members”, and those that showed an interest that rapidly dissipated. There were a number of explanations for why Labour Transformed failed (though lack of political coherence was a common reason), and why people left when they did. Ultimately there was no common frame of reference or clear understanding of the goals of the organisation that might have led to the possibility of attempting to critique the organisation in a dispassionate way and identify a threshold of failure at which point it made sense for disbandment. Those that were there until the very end probably knew that the organisation was limping on for no reason, but this in itself becomes a problem. Whilst the organisation exists, I am a member of the National Organising Group; when it dies I am just another person who was part of a now-extinct organisation. The effect of this identitarian aspect cannot be understated, particularly in the absence of any model of success/failure.
The underlying reasoning for writing this piece was partially to gain closure from an organisation to which both authors committed considerable time and energy (emotional as well as physical), and partially to do the appropriate work of chronicling and contextualising an organisation’s life history so that lessons might be learned, or at the very least recorded. Operating loosely in the Marxian tradition, we have tried to move from the concrete (the actual history of Labour Transformed) to the abstract (categorising Labour Transformed within the wider theory of organisational forms), and once again to the concrete (what this all means going forward). To this latter point, we reiterate that a political organisation needs to justify its existence, and not just in vague hand-wringing terms such as “we need a communist party”. This is an extremely limited analysis that does not account for why one does not currently exist, why those that do/did exist failed, what one might actually be able to do, and how. These are hard and contentious questions, but only by thinking through them can we avoid repeating past mistakes and burning out ourselves and our comrades. Models of change, informed by the data we have, and how an organisation fits into that model are not desirable, they are a necessity. This account - of what was an entirely unremarkable and ineffectual organisation - is a contribution to the sort of information that should help inform our models going forward, to whatever minor extent.
Kallum Pembro was a founding member of Labour Transformed. He can be found on Twitter @KallumRoss
Vivak Soni was a later member of the Labour Transformed NOG, and is part of The Black Lamp Collective. He can be found on Twitter @vivaksoni
Beer, S., 2002. "What is cybernetics?". Kybernetes. 31 (2): 209–219
Draper, H., 1973. “Anatomy of the micro-sect”. Unpublished (available on marxists.org).
EndNotes Collective., “We unhappy few” in EndNotes #5.
Michels, R., 2001. Political Parties: A Sociological Study of the Oligarchical Tendencies of Modern Democracy. Ontario: Batoche Books
Nairn, T., 1965. The Nature of the Labour Party (Part 1). In New Left Review.
Przeworski, A., 1985. Capitalism and Social Democracy, 1st ed. Cambridge University Press. https://doi.org/10.1017/CBO9781139171830
Simon, H., 1979. “Some thoughts on organisation.” https://libcom.org/article/some-thoughts-organisation-henri-simon
Trotsky, L., 1974. The Transitional Program for Socialist Revolution. New York: Pathfinder.