Over one year on from its formation, and after months of internal wrangling about its democratic structures, and Momentum still lacks both any pace or direction. In place of any forward movement, tensions at the top have only increased, with two distinct visions for the organisation emerging and the opposing forces cancelling each other out.
Amidst this acrimony, most tragically, crucial political questions have been neglected, leaving Corbyn more isolated than ever inside the lion’s den of the Parliamentary Labour Party.
With tentative plans for the first ever national conference of Momentum now in place for February 2017, it is vital that the Corbyn movement returns to discussing the programme and policies that are needed to transform the Labour Party into an unstoppable vehicle capable of kicking out the Tories and fighting for socialism.
In the run-up to the Momentum national conference, we call on our readers to campaign throughout Momentum for the model motions presented at the end of this article – motions on key issues that need to be addressed in order to turn the Labour Party into the powerful weapon required by the working class in the fight to end austerity
Collision and schism
Momentum was initially founded in the autumn of 2015 as the continuation of the first Corbyn Labour leadership campaign, designed to create a movement that would fight for Corbyn’s anti-austerity, anti-war programme. Over the following year, with continued guerrilla warfare being waged by Blairite MPs, culminating in the “chicken coup” last summer, it was increasingly clear that the democratically elected Labour leader was being held hostage by his own party colleagues.
In the wake of the (second) leadership election and the recent Labour Party national conference, therefore, it became evident to many that Momentum’s lack of direction needed to be resolved. Hundreds of thousands of new members had joined the party and helped re-elect Corbyn on another landslide; and yet this did not seem to have translated into a strengthening of Corbyn and the Left’s position or policies inside the party.
At root, it is the desire to defend Corbyn and fight for socialism that has now led to a collision between rank-and-file Momentum members and a layer of the organisation’s leadership that are unwilling to draw the necessary conclusions from the past 18 months of turbulent events inside the Labour Party.
On the surface, the primary issue behind the schism appears to be that of democratic structures. As we have discussed elsewhere, on one side is Jon Lansman – the Momentum boss and veteran organiser on the Labour Left – and others who are pushing for an organisation and national conference build upon internet-based “direct democracy”. 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.
The real issues at stake
In reality, however, these organisational questions have masked far more important political differences about the nature of Momentum’s role within the wider Labour movement. Far from empowering Momentum’s grassroots, from the beginning Lansman and co. have sought to dampen the enthusiasm and initiative of local activists and groups, fearful of their losing control over the Corbyn movement. Open political discussion and bottom-up campaigning have been continually throttled, in favour of tightly-controlled drives from the top. And, above all, key political questions about transforming the Labour Party have been outright avoided and evaded at every step.
On the ground, there is a burning anger amongst Corbyn supporters and rank-and-file Labour members about the continued sabotage by right-wing Labour MPs and Blairite bureaucrats; about the McCarthyite purges of left-wing Labour members from the Party by the shadowy “Compliance Unit”; and about the lack of fight from Labour councillors in relation to local cuts. And yet the Momentum leadership has, at every turn, refused to put forward the necessary demands – or even to allow a discussion on them.
For example, after the failed coup against Corbyn was defeated, rather than going on the offensive and calling for the plotters to be democratically replaced by genuine class fighters, Jon Lansman affirmed his opposition to mandatory reselection – despite supporting the demand for decades previously. In the process, he earned the praise of none other than the Blairite bully, Tom Watson, who lauded Lansman and Momentum for their conciliatory attitude. And yet for all Lansman’s compromise, the Labour Establishment continue to demonise Momentum for being the Militant Mark II.
Above all, Lansman and the other self-appointed Momentum leaders are afraid of the potential militancy and radicalisation of the Corbyn movement, which could quickly run away from them, upset the peace, and destroy their serenity if it were to be unleashed. It is clear for all those who have eyes to see that nothing has fundamentally been resolved in terms of Labour’s civil war. Unless Corbyn completely capitulates, the Blairites will never accept him. In the meantime, they will bide their time and suffocate him and his programme slowly – hence the aptly named “Project Anaconda” proposed by Watson and his cabal in the PLP.
The immediate task of Momentum, therefore, remains the same: to organise the Left and transform the Labour Party from top-to-bottom; to kick out the Blairites and campaign for genuine representatives of the working class at every level; to defend Corbyn, and fight for socialism.
After many months of delay, the long-overdue meeting of the Momentum National Committee (NC) finally met on Saturday 3rd December to discuss and debate the unresolved organisational questions. Eventually it was agreed, albeit by narrow margins, that the upcoming Momentum conference would be delegate-based, with motions submitted from local branches, affiliates, and liberation groups, and elected delegates discussing and voting on all motions.
Those advocating an internet-based, “horizontal” method of organisation, however, have not remained particularly dignified in the wake of their loss at the NC meeting. Very quickly, those in favour of “clicktavism” took to social media, throwing their toys out of the pram and whipping up a hysterical storm about “Trotskyists” attempting to take over Momentum and control it for their own malign “sectarian” aims.
Owen Jones, the renowned Guardian writer, has now also chipped in with this Red Scare, imploring his followers to struggle on the side of the “younger, idealistic, campaign-oriented” “movementists” against the crusty old sectarians. Such hypocrisy is startling, coming from a man who spent last summer’s leadership election berating Corbyn’s leadership, rather than aiming his fire at the Blairite backstabbers. And yet now our esteemed journalist and author has the audacity to wade in from on high and tell those in Momentum – who have campaigned tirelessly for Corbyn – how to run their own organisation!
Most remarkable about these bitter attacks from Jones et al. is how the language of the Blairites has been repeated almost to the letter by those who claim to be on the Left of the Party. Who can forget the ludicrous claims from only a few months ago when Tom Watson accused “Trotskyists” of “twisting the arms” of young Labour members? Now we have Owen Jones and the rest of the self-anointed “Left” leaders repeating the same slanders. Remember the Blairites calling Corbyn supporters “ideologues”, “dogmatic” and “entryists”? Now we have the “Labour Lefts” calling those they disagree with the exact same.
Old vs new?
The struggle is painted by Jones, Lansman and co. as being one of the fresh, young political activists fighting for “new ideas” and “direct democracy” against a stale regime of backward, narrow-looking sectarians. But the reality could not be further from the truth. For starters, the “democrats” fail to mention how several of Momentum’s NC places were reserved for groups such as: Left Futures, an ‘organization’ which essentially amounts to being Jon Lansman’s blog; Compass, who supported the Liberal Democrats in the Richmond by-election and did not support Corbyn in the leadership election; and Open Labour, who supported Owen Smith in the leadership election. And yet nobody has ever been consulted on the presence of these ladies and gentlemen on Momentum’s leading elected body.
Secondly, one of the key figures in Momentum amongst the so-called “sectarians” and “Trotskyists” that Jones rails against is Matt Wrack, the elected general secretary of the Fire Brigades Union and leading stalwart of the Corbyn movement – a man with far more impeccable left credentials than our enlightened Guardian journalist.
Finally, it should be stressed that the rhetoric about “direct democracy” and “inclusivity” offered by Jon Lansman, Owen Jones and others, is a façade behind which all of the key levers of decision making are concentrated in the hands of the same old self-selected leadership. After all, in their proposed system of “horizontal”, “networked” organisation and activism, who controls the flow of information?
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.
Who you calling old, Owen? - above: over 100 young "sectarians" at the Marxist Student Federation 2016 national conference
Defend Corbyn! Fight for Socialism!
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.
One can see this, for example, in Owen Jones’ claim that Momentum should be an organisation that focusses on “start[ing] ambitious community initiatives, such as food banks”. But what the working class needs, above all, is not more charity, but a political party that seeks to abolish the austerity and the anarchy of the rotten capitalist system once and for all.
Even more telling is Jones’ assessment of the recent Labour Party national conference. He cites with reverence Momentum’s organisation of the World Transformed Festival (WTF), which apparently was “the highlight of Labour’s otherwise drab party conference”. The only problem is that whilst Momentum activists were engaging in discussions at the WTF, the Blairites, who had spent months planning a proper intervention at the annual conference, completely dominated the votes that really mattered.
Alas, the most disciplined and effective organisations within the Labour Party are currently the Blairites of Progress and Labour First (amongst other euphemistically named organisations). And it is this determination and organisation by the Blairites that allows them to currently punch above their vastly inferior weight and continue their manoeuvres against the democratically elected leader at every level of the Party. Thankfully this is beginning to change as a result of the bottom-up efforts of Momentum’s grassroots members – but such initiatives do not absolve the leadership of their responsibilities.
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.
Despite the conscious attempt to dampen the mood of Momentum’s grassroots, the situation cannot continue indefinitely. We are seeing a mass awakening of the working class across the globe, many of whom are entering politics for the first time. If the current leaders of the movement are not up to the job, they will soon be discarded and replaced by genuine fighters. It is up to Momentum to give a militant lead; to transform the Labour Party and turn it in to an organisation capable of fighting for a socialist alternative to the Tories, to austerity, and to capitalism.
MODEL MOTIONS FOR MOMENTUM CONFERENCE
On mandatory reselection: transform the Labour Party!
The election and re-election of Jeremy Corbyn as leader of the Labour Party marks a fundamental turning point for the labour movement in Britain. After decades of Blairism and Tory-lite policies, we finally have a leader who is committed to an anti-austerity, anti-war programme. At the same time, Labour is now the largest political party in western Europe, providing the basis for a mass movement to kick out the Tories at the next election.
The revolution that has begun in the Labour Party, however, still needs to be completed. Between the leadership and the membership lies a vast layer of MPs, party staff, councillors, CLP officers, and branch delegates to CLPs who do not support the democratically elected leader and the programme he was elected on. Within the Parliamentary Labour Party, meanwhile, there still exists a cabal of right-wing Labour MPs who refuse to respect the will of the membership and are continuing in their attempts to undermine, sabotage, and isolate Jeremy Corbyn.
We believe that it is time to call a halt to such scandalous behaviour, and for MPs to unite behind Corbyn in order to fight the Tories and their austerity.
We therefore call for:
- Momentum to campaign for the mandatory reselection of all MPs, so that local Labour members have the democratic right to choose who represents them and their constituency.
- The Shadow Cabinet to be chosen by the democratically elected leader on the basis of who is most able to fulfil the remits and roles required.
- All Labour MPs to only take the wage of an average skilled worker, in order to guarantee that our elected representatives have the same material interests as those they are supposed to represent.
- Momentum to organise at every level of the Labour Party to find and campaign for candidates who support Jeremy Corbyn and his policies, including candidates for branch delegates to CLPs, CLP delegates to national conference, CLP officers, councillors, and MPs.
On austerity: fight for socialism!
The current economic crisis is the deepest in the history of capitalism. After 8 years now of slump, all the serious forecasts are for years - or even decades - of more of the same: crisis, stagnation, and declining living standards. This is the “new normality” of life under capitalism.
All prospects for a return to the “golden age” of the post-war boom are ruled out. Indeed, all of the gains won by the working class in that period - the NHS, the cradle-to-grave welfare system, council housing, and decent pensions and pay - are now under attack as a result of the crisis.
The austerity that has been implemented by governments across the world reflects this fact. Cuts to welfare and public services are not simply the result of the “nasty” Tories, but flow from the crisis of the global capitalist system. Even Syriza in Greece, elected in on a radical left programme to end austerity, ended up capitulating and carrying out cuts as a result of pressure from the markets and the “Troika”.
The lessons of this Greek tragedy must act as a warning call to any future left Labour government in Britain. It is not elected governments that control the banks and big business, but the banks and big business that dictate to elected governments. If we do not break with capitalism, capitalism will break us.
It is vital, therefore, that Labour returns to its socialist roots, reinstating the aims of Clause IV to fight for “the common ownership of the means of production, distribution and exchange”.
We therefore call for Momentum to campaign for Labour to commit to the following:
- For Labour councils to fight the cuts, setting illegal budgets as part of a mass labour movement campaign to kick out the Tories.
- For a mass programme of council housing; a real living wage; and a fully-funded, free, publically-owned education and healthcare system.
- To nationalise the banks, utilities, transport and big corporations in order to democratically plan the economy in the interests of the vast majority.
- To end austerity and fight for socialism.
On expulsions and suspensions: protest the purge!
Over the past year there have been hundreds of suspensions and expulsions across the country of Labour Party members. Some have been suspended for the supposed “crime” of tweeting in support of the Green Party years ago; others simply for using the word “Blairite” or “traitor” in relation to the actions of those who tried to oust the democratically elected leader earlier this year.
Included in these exclusions are expulsions of Corbyn supporters and socialist activists who are loyal Labour Party members, carried through by the shadowy and unaccountable Compliance Unit. These comrades are being expelled on the spurious grounds that they “do not support the aims and values of the Labour Party”.
At the same time, we note and condemn the suspension of local Labour parties, such as the Wallasey CLP and the Brighton and Hove District Labour Party, as well as the suspension of activists such as Jackie Walker.
The hypocrisy is shocking: dozens of Labour MPs continually support the Tories by voting for their policies in Parliament and undermining the elected Labour leader, and yet nothing is said or done; meanwhile, socialists who support the democratically elected Labour leader and his programme are expelled from the Party because of, for example, their affiliation to socialist newspapers or tendencies within the Party.
We are outraged by the lack of due process involved in these expulsions and the failure to apply the principles of natural justice. In the case of expulsions – “auto-exclusions” – for example, comrades are being given no right to appeal.
We demand that a stop is brought to these suspensions and expulsions, and that all those who support the Labour Party are welcomed into the party with open arms.
We therefore call for Momentum to campaign for the following:
- An amnesty for all individuals who have been wrongly suspended or expelled since July 2015.
- All other existing suspended or expelled members to be given the right to an appeal.
- The immediate reinstatement of all suspended local Labour parties.
- The abolition of the Compliance Unit, and its replacement with a democratic, transparent and accountable body.
- The establishment of a transparent procedure for suspensions and expulsions based on the principles of natural justice, with the accused being guaranteed the right to be heard and to defend themselves before any suspension or expulsion, as well as the right of appeal.
- For all those who support the Labour Party to be welcomed into the party so that we can unite to kick out the Tories and end austerity.