Grassroots Momentum held its founding conference last weekend, at which around 200 activists voted on the faction’s aims and values as the radical voice of local Momentum groups.
Invited speakers included Matt Wrack of the Fire Brigades Union (FBU) and former Momentum chair Jackie Walker, who was suspended from Labour under pressure from the right wing, following spurious claims of antisemitism.
The conference was called in the aftermath of a coup by Momentum founder, Jon Lansman. Following a dispute over the democratic structures of the organisation and ceaseless delays of its founding conference, Lansman emailed a new constitution to Momentum members earlier this year announcing that all the organisation’s democratic structures had been obliterated. Leading bodies like the Steering Committee and National Committee were axed, a promised delegate conference cancelled, and all decision-making relegated to “digital democracy” ‒ online referenda on aims and policy.
Worse still, the constitution announced that only those members either in the Labour Party or with the capacity to join could remain members of Momentum, meaning that thousands of socialists purged from Labour by the right wing bureaucracy could soon face disenfranchisement from Momentum as well.
Under the guise of ousting nefarious Trotskyist infiltrators from Momentum and introducing trendy ‘horizontal’ democratic structures, Lansman’s coup sought to disempower the grassroots (where Momentum’s genuine radical potential lies) and transform the organisation into a standing army of “clicktavists”, rather than a meaningful political entity.
Understandably, many local Momentum groups were outraged at Lansman’s fait accompli, as were several members of Momentum’s (now-defunct) leadership bodies. These elements have come together as Grassroots Momentum: a banner around which local activists (angered by Lansman’s coup) can rally without definitively splitting from the main organisation.
With this event, Grassroots Momentum aimed to provide incensed activists the democratic, delegate conference denied to them because of the Lansman coup.
Militancy and radicalisation
The day began with a plenary in which delegates ratified Grassroots Momentum’s constitution, which contained the stated aim of:
“Giving national co-ordination and political education to groups of Momentum activists, inspired by Jeremy Corbyn’s successful leadership victories, who are:
- Fighting against the effects of austerity in our communities;
- Democratising and transforming the Labour Movement – including standing candidates/slates and improving policy;
- Organising for a working class, socialist transformation of society.”
The constitution was developed through several contributions from the floor, incorporating specific policy goals around defending the NHS, fighting the expulsion of socialists from the Labour Party, and defending workers’ rights.
Many activists gave extremely militant speeches, openly declaring their desire to wrest control of the Labour Party machine away from the right wing, and arguing that the primary purpose of Momentum must be to help return a socialist Labour government to power.
Moreover, Nick Wrack of Southwark Momentum pointed out that the grassroots’ support for Jeremy Corbyn must not be “uncritical”, due to his being a “social democrat” rather than a revolutionary. Wrack pointed out that, without a socialist transformation of society following the “destruction” of capitalism, even if Corbyn were to win a general election, he would be isolated within his own party and forced to concede to the economic agenda of austerity and cuts.
It was a highly encouraging start to the day. But sadly this was followed by a protracted and acrimonious debate about the leadership structures of Grassroots Momentum ‒ ironic, given the context in which the conference was called! Ultimately, it was decided that a new Steering Committee of 15-20 people would meet every six weeks, and that this body could elect an Executive Committee (without being obliged to do so), and local groups would continue to meet as usual.
For a fighting, socialist Labour Party
In all, Grassroots Momentum’s founding conference showed the potential that has always existed in Momentum, and which risks being squandered by Lansman’s coup. While the radical mood and fighting words were a fine thing to see, a pre-occupation with organisational minutiae is a luxury the left cannot afford.
The number one priority for Momentum at this point must be to direct the best elements that have cohered around Corbyn to win control of the Labour Party machine. Grassroots Momentum must be instrumental in making this case, in addition to resisting Lansman’s dictatorship of one and continuing to foster socialist ideas amongst local activists. It should actively support and co-ordinate the day-to-day campaigning carried out by local Momentum groups in communities ravaged by Tory austerity.
A Socialist Appeal supporter offered a contribution during a ‘collective’ closing address, in which he stated out that the Left had to get organised and “nasty” to counter the right wing of Labour. He pointed out that Progress and Labour First ran rings around Momentum at the last Labour conference. Unless Grassroots Momentum was willing to openly combat the Blairites for control of the party apparatus, while pressuring Corbyn from the left, the movement behind the leader will be “strangled”.
This went down well with the room and was met with much applause, implying that the message clearly resonates with the radical activists in Momentum’s local groups. The task now is for this new faction to galvanise these layers into a politicised, socialist force that can defeat the Labour right-wing and ensure that Corbyn carries out his anti-austerity, anti-war programme.