Why the ‘right-wing Momentum’ is Doomed to Failure
After months deriding Momentum as being a thuggish, deluded Trotskyist sect, members of the Conservative Party have decided to complement their ideological enemy via copying them.
If ‘Momentum’ had the vacuous buzzword-ish sound of a team-name from The Apprentice, well, behold politics’ brand-new grassroots clique: ‘Activate’.
In PR-terms, one could say that the launch was something of a semi-atrocity.
Twitter (naturally) has photoshopped the logo of Activate into ‘Deactivate’ and ‘ActiveHate’. It was pointed out that the majority of the leaders of Activate were all men. A parody twitter account of Activate was set up. A Whatsapp chat of Activate activists was leaked revealing private conversations concerning how chavs should be gassed and/or used for medical testing (such playful centre-right banter is afterwards accompanied with the thoughtful side-remark: “But seriously, chavs are an actual problem”).
However, such amusing gaffes — bordering on political titillation — aren’t at the epicentre of why Activate, as a political project, cannot succeed. The problem with Activate (and perhaps even the Conservative Party as a whole) is that it doesn’t understand the organic political dynamics of Momentum. This isn’t meant to disparage or insult the Conservative Party members who formed Activate but to merely say that they cannot mimic a style of politics if they don’t meaningfully comprehend the logic, function, style — even culture — of the politics that they’re desperately attempting to be the similar (but ideological reversal) of.
What they have done is created a bureaucratic organisation with the goal of creating a grassroots movement. Such political creations cannot overcome such garish internal contradictions.
Whilst it is true that Momentum has a leadership-structure which guides it (most movements do), Momentum formed organically. This is the crux of the issue.
Momentum formed out of material political events. For a long time, there had been a void in the Labour Party of a politics that sincerely cared about the labour movement. After Ed Miliband failed to become Prime Minister, this chasm deepened and the already existing factional-tensions in the Labour Party exacerbated further. An internal debate arose over whether Miliband was too left-wing or not left-wing enough. Such debates represent the factional concerns of real people within this political grouping. As much as there was an internal desire for the party to recede away from the labour movement, there was also another (arguably stronger) counter-desire to return to a class-politics that held neoliberal-capitalism into question. Jeremy Corbyn nominated himself and those real political desires found an object to latch onto. Those desires formed a movement of people who were in and outside of the Labour Party (and even in other parties) to try and get Corbyn to become the Leader of Her Majesty’s Opposition. They were successful. The movement then formally congealed to form Momentum as we know it today.
What were the material conditions that formed Activate? Can we draw comparisons at all? Not really; we can perhaps say that the story behind the formation of Activate is in many ways in stylistic opposition to the creation of Momentum. Theresa May held an election which was essentially a cynical power-grab. Her victory was pyrrhic. Her operation was comparable to the Labour Party only in so far as we can say that she campaigned like a socially-awkward version of Tony Blair: highly stage-managed and awkwardly oozing meaningless buzzwords like a burst splinter containing a dogged political phrasebook (Blair was a clichéd and trite political-creature but at least he appeared to have convictions). After a period of introspection, various individuals in the Conservative Party proceeded to wax lyrical to their colleagues in a tone of jealousy about how useful Momentum was to Corbyn’s campaign. Wishing to quell their jealousy and conjure a provocative political strategy they proceeded to mimic their opponents. If Corbyn can have a grassroots movement, why can’t we?
But this political move is based on a misinterpretation of political events. They wish to crudely create a political street-movement — but Momentum didn’t create a movement, the movement created Momentum. And what movement does Theresa May have behind her?
The conception of a right-wing grassroots surge (or simply just right-wing populism) isn’t an impossibility. But political street-movements form when radical cultural, economic, or ideological ruptures happen. Corbyn was a rupture; what is May if not but a mere ugly dent?
Thus the problem with Activate is that they have nothing to coalesce around, no great force that drives them, and such political forces cannot be crudely created. Thus, if Activate is to ever work, it’ll require a re-imagining of the Conservative Party as it now stands which first of all requires a different leader — therefore the core problem with Activate is Theresa May herself.