A personal note

In his final blog, David Skitt explains how a random bit of browsing in a Gatwick Airport bookshop f

What drew me to Krishnamurti? I picked up The Krishnamurti Reader in Gatwick Airport bookshop thirty years ago. I remember thinking: this is strange stuff. I was puzzled but attracted. The words seemed simple enough, certainly after Sartre, but the meaning remained elusive. So back in Paris, when not going out in the evening, I would go to my local restaurant, and after what was then a usual half bottle of Beaujolais and an Armagnac, I read my Krishnamurti book. Perhaps not surprisingly, I remained puzzled. Then the rocket programme of the European Launcher Development Organisation [ELDO] where I was working failed [it was later successfully superseded by ESA’S Ariane] and I like everyone else there was out of a job. I also found myself out of a relationship, my partner having decamped. Before doing so she had convinced me of my total ignorance of Eastern culture, and persuaded me to send a modest donation to Tibetan refugees in India. So when asked one evening at an ELDO cocktail party by the French General in charge of the place what my future plans were, I said I was thinking of visiting Tibetan refugees in India to explore the wisdom of the East. He urged, almost ordered, me to do so, adding rather wanly that in his view the West mass-produced unhappiness.

Before India I took a break on the Costa del Sol and on the drive down from Paris stopped at the Alhambra and spent some time in its great gardens reading Krishnamurti’s Freedom from the Known. Something may have seeped in at this time. Then for a few months in India and for some years after returning to Paris I explored Tibetan Buddhism and will always be deeply grateful for the teaching and explanations given.

I suppose like most of us there was an ideological background to all this: routine, low-key, conformist indoctrination in Christianity at school, and in Paris a flirtation with Marxist existentialism— ‘does it hurt all the time or only occasionally?’ a waggish friend once asked—plus ten years or so of dedicated pursuit of pleasure, which, well, got very wearing, and for some of my friends ended tragically.

What drew me to K in the end was the sense of being totally free to take or leave what he was saying. There was no dogma, no belief, no set of principles requiring assent. Instead there were only testable statements about the way human consciousness works. These could be checked out in everyday life for their validity. Like most of us I felt there was a problem with undue self-centredness in myself—and others—and was drawn for a time to the belief that supporting political and social reform would somehow transcend that [tragically this belief was what drew many of us to communism and fascism]. But Sartre hit a nail firmly on the head: ‘People believe what they believe not because it is true but because they have an emotional need to believe it.’ This seemed to me to apply equally to political ideology and faith-based religion. Krishnamurti was offering something else.

We certainly live in a time when humanity is under more threats than ever before—climate change, increased rivalry over natural resources, the risk of pandemics, new kinds of terrorism and war. And politicians talk of the need for unprecedented international cooperation to solve these problems. But the old faiths, the old political ideologies, the old national loyalties seem starkly out of sync with anything one might call a planetary mentality. On the other hand, neuroscience has discovered in the last two decades that the human brain is far more capable of change, of adapting, even of redesigning itself, than previously thought possible. So is Krishnamurti’s case for a radical shift in human consciousness not utopian but what life now demands? Good question. One to plant like a seed.

David Skitt was educated at Cambridge. From 1955 to 1985 he worked as a translation revisereditor for the OECD and the European Space Agency in Paris. He is a trustee of the Krishnamurti Foundation at Brockwood Park, Hampshire.
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No, the battle in Momentum isn't about young against old

Jon Lansman and his allies' narrative doesn't add up, argues Rida Vaquas.

If you examined the recent coverage around Momentum, you’d be forgiven for thinking that it was headed towards an acrimonious split, judging by the vitriol, paranoia and lurid accusations that have appeared online in the last couple days. You’d also be forgiven for thinking that this divide was between a Trotskyist old guard who can’t countenance new ways of working, and hip youngsters who are filled with idealism and better at memes. You might then be incredibly bemused as to how the Trotskyists Momentum was keen to deny existed over the summer have suddenly come to the brink of launching a ‘takeover bid’.

However these accounts, whatever intentions or frustrations that they are driven by, largely misrepresent the dispute within Momentum and what transpired at the now infamous National Committee meeting last Saturday.

In the first instance, ‘young people’ are by no means universally on the side of e-democracy as embodied by the MxV online platform, nor did all young people at the National Committee vote for Jon Lansman’s proposal which would make this platform the essential method of deciding Momentum policy.

Being on National Committee as the representative from Red Labour, I spoke in favour of a conference with delegates from local groups, believing this is the best way to ensure local groups are at the forefront of what we do as an organisation.

I was nineteen years old then. Unfortunately speaking and voting in favour of a delegates based conference has morphed me into a Trotskyist sectarian from the 1970s, aging me by over thirty years.

Moreover I was by no means the only young person in favour of this, Josie Runswick (LGBT+ representative) and the Scottish delegates Martyn Cook and Lauren Gilmour are all under thirty and all voted for a delegates based national conference. I say this to highlight that the caricature of an intergenerational war between the old and the new is precisely that: a caricature bearing little relation to a much more nuanced reality.

Furthermore, I believe that many people who voted for a delegates-based conference would be rather astounded to find themselves described as Trotskyists. I do not deny that there are Trotskyists on National Committee, nor do I deny that Trotskyists supported a delegates-based conference – that is an open position of theirs. What I do object is a characterisation of the 32 delegates who voted for a delegates-based conference as Trotskyists, or at best, gullible fools who’ve been taken in.  Many regional delegates were mandated by the people to whom they are accountable to support a national conference based on this democratic model, following broad and free political discussion within their regions. As thrilling as it might be to fantasise about a sinister plot driven by the shadow emperors of the hard Left against all that it is sensible and moderate in Momentum, the truth is rather more mundane. Jon Lansman and his supporters failed to convince people in local groups of the merits of his e-democracy proposal, and as a result lost the vote.

I do not think that Momentum is doomed to fail on account of the particular details of our internal structures, providing that there is democracy, accountability and grassroots participation embedded into it. I do not think Momentum is doomed to fail the moment Jon Lansman, however much respect I have for him, loses a vote. I do not even think Momentum is doomed to fail if Trotskyists are involved, or even win sometimes, if they make their case openly and convince others of their ideas in the structures available.

The existential threat that Momentum faces is none of these things, it is the propagation of a toxic and polarised political culture based on cliques and personal loyalties as opposed to genuine political discussion on how we can transform labour movement and transform society. It is a political culture in which those opposed to you in the organisation are treated as alien invaders hell-bent on destroying it, even when we’ve worked together to build it up, and we worked together before the Corbyn moment even happened. It is a political culture where members drag others through the mud, using the rhetoric of the Right that’s been used to attack all of us, on social and national media and lend their tacit support to witch hunts that saw thousands of Labour members and supporters barred from voting in the summer. It is ultimately a political culture in which our trust in each other and capacity to work together on is irreparably eroded.

We have a tremendous task facing us: to fight for a socialist alternative in a global context where far right populism is rapidly accruing victories; to fight for the Labour Party to win governmental power; to fight for a world in which working class people have the power to collectively change their lives and change the societies we live in. In short: there is an urgent need to get our act together. This will not be accomplished by sniping about ‘saboteurs’ but by debating the kind of politics we want clearly and openly, and then coming together to campaign from a grassroots level upwards.

Rida Vaquas is Red Labour Representative on Momentum National Committee.