Momentum Year One — Five Points of Change
Momentum, the organisation born out of Jeremy Corbyn’s 2015 victory, is now a year old. It has certainly been a tumultuous 12 months since it’s inception with the organisation both being subject to wide spread calumnies in the capitalist media with both the conservative and liberal press winding themselves up into a frenzy about it’s mere existence. Momentum now has 20,000 individual members and a supporters network reported to be over 170,000 strong and has really come into it’s own over the summer months of this year. When the Parliamentary Labour Party attempted their coup in late June. With the Labour Party paralysed it was the grassroots Momentum groups which were able to mobilise in Corbyn’s defence. In the space of a week demonstrations were organised nationwide by Momentum and Labour left supporters on the basis of zero budget and often using nothing more than social media to promote it. This showed the potential of Momentum as an organising force and is part of what makes it a hugely exciting political development. Not since the Independent Labour Party of the 1930’s has such a large, broad left grouping existed within the Labour Party itself. Momentum future purpose is contested between many of those within Momentum itself. So what is the future for this organisation? Here I suggest five key points that would take Momentum in the direction needed.
- Democracy — As things stand Momentum has democratic structures at the local level but it’s regional and national structures are lacking in democratic accountability. There are two reasons why this is important. The first is the simple question of accountability. If the membership of Momentum is to have any confidence in decisions being made at the regional and national level then all levels of the organisation need to be elected and subject the control that a mandate from the members gives to them. The second reason is as important and is about political development. Momentum was born out of the Corbyn campaign but if it is to develop it must go beyond being attached to one political leader. The election of regional and national leaderships would be a much needed stimulus for debate about what policies Momentum should promote and what the purpose of the organisation is. The election process would help us develop as an organisation and help the political education of members who may be totally new to political activity.
- Policies — Momentum currently has a short and rather vague set of policies derived from Corbyn’s leadership campaign of 2015. If Momentum is to develop further though we will need to democratically debate and decide upon a much more extensive set of policy priorities. This should be done via debates in local branches, regional structures and finally through a national policy conference. If Momentum’s purpose is to change the Labour Party, to make it into a truly democratic socialist party, then it must have a series of Socialist policies for which it fights. Momentum needs to develop it’s policies further so that where the Labour leadership is not committing to Socialist policies then Momentum can organise effectively around pushing for them within the Labour Party structures. We can only do this if have a clear policy platform ourselves.
- Education — Momentum now has 20,000 members, some of whom are long experienced campaigners and organisers but of whom many more are relatively new to political activity. What is needed first and foremost is comprehensive training on how the Labour Party works. We need to develop a programme that can explain what are often arcane seeming structures to new members and showing them how to get active in them. This is important as Momentum needs to serve as a training school for activists and do so in such a way that they are defeated and demoralised by attending what can at first be baffling meetings. The equally important challenge is to create education programmes covering the ABC’s of Socialism for new activists. This is important as one of the key challenges is the need to build an army of activists who can go out into workplaces and communities and confidently argue not just for the policies of the Labour Party but for the kind of mass Socialist Party we need Labour to be.
- Organising — This can take two forms both of which are equally important. Firstly Momentum needs to develop constituency and ward level organisations which can help the left within Labour at every level come together to organise. Going into a ward or CLP meeting is a lot of a rewarding experience if you have met with and started organising with others beforehand. There also needs to be an organised effort to win votes and elected positions back from the Labour right who have held them for years and we only get that if Momentum starts being the broad left organising force at every level of the party. The other part of this is that we need to get the branches and CLP’s to be campaigning organisations and Momentum activists can be the driving force in securing this. That is why the other important part of this is to make sure we have as many people as possible trained as political and social organisers. In the 20,000 members of Momentum we have a wealth of experience to draw on and we should be doing this. Every local Momentum group should stage organiser training courses with the aim to get at least one person trained for each local area.
- Campaigning — As stated above, we need the local Labour Party’s to become campaigning forces again and that means winning people over to campaigning in a new way. This is crucial if we are to win the next election as campaigning in the old way plainly does not work in this new and much more unstable political era. Labour Party’s need to be seen acting as the voice of the working class across the country. This will not be easy and it’s where Momentum again has a role to play. If we train our activists in how to conduct campaigns we can have people going to Labour Party meetings presenting convincing plans as to how the local parties should be campaigning and on which issues. Momentum activists should be the first to step forward with new campaigning ideas the should be seen taking lead on them. The other factor when it comes to campaigning is organising to win policy changes within the Labour Party itself. This years conference saw the right be far more organised in their intervention. Momentum should be organising (along with others on the Labour left) a clear and coherent intervention in all conferences which includes getting the basics right such as winning votes on who gets to be conference delegates to having speakers lined up for each motion to making sure the conference attendees all receive Momentum material explaining our positions. This sounds straight forward but this is the often gritty organisational tasks too many on the left neglect entirely.
Throughout all of these points I’ve focussed on the need for Momentum to essentially act as a broad left, organising body. It’s focus must be on developing and training activists to go into the Labour Party, be able to navigate it’s structures and organise collectively to fundamentally change it. Momentum should be radical, Socialist and highly democratic organisation which is able to effectively organise interventions within the Labour Party but be prepared to go beyond that when it is needed. It should not be tied to any one leader but be about developing and popularising Socialist ideas on a mass basis in the Labour Party.