By Urte March
VOTING IS open until 6 July in the Momentum leadership elections, with two slates—Your Momentum and Momentum Organisers—competing in a lifeless re-run of the 2020 contest. Your Momentum is a rebrand of the incumbent Forward Momentum grouping orienting itself towards social movements and community campaigns, while Momentum Organisers emphasises the need to re-focus on building left majorities within Labour Party structures and is backed by more traditional Labour left figures.
A third slate, Labour Left Internationalists, organised around the Alliance for Workers Liberty (AWL), is also running a few candidates. While their emphasis on socialism and internationalism is welcome in a conversation mainly dominated by organisational questions, as is their focus on Momentum relating more to the wider Labour movement, they are unlikely to have a serious impact on the result.
Your Momentum is standing on the record of the outgoing National Coordinating Group (NCG) – a largely bland and inoffensive tenure notable for missed opportunities. Under its current leadership Momentum has pivoted towards community campaigns and organising, supporting renters’ unions and movements like Kill the Bill, and offering solidarity to trans and Palestinian liberation struggles. As Momentum Organisers rightly note, however, these initiatives have amounted to very little beyond advertising already established campaigns.
The NCG has failed to organise the labour movement itself to drive the narrative on these issues, which it could have done by encouraging branches and unions to pass motions, setting a priority campaign and supporting local groups to organise it on the ground, and setting out to change Labour Party and union policy and hold the leadership to account on implementing it. Momentum has failed to raise any significant opposition to the stitched-up expulsions of left-wingers from the party and did not attempt to coordinate a mass campaign against the government’s incompetent, corrupt, and murderous coronavirus policies, nor the emerging cost of living crisis.
The outgoing NCG also promised us a ‘radical redesign’ of Momentum’s constitution and structures, aiming to ‘put members in charge’ and re-democratise the movement after years of bureaucratic control. What we got was a convoluted and technocratic process which has just concluded with an all-member vote on 17 different proposals. Members were given just two weeks to vote after a year of deliberation by various committees.
There are a number of useful democratic changes to Momentum’s processes and structures within the proposals passed, including a biennial members’ conference, guarantees of democratic rights and autonomy for local and regional Momentum groups, procedures for accountability and recall of NCG members, and the introduction of the STV system for Momentum elections. But these have come too late for the many thousands of members who have left Momentum and the Labour Party in the past two years.
Now as in 2020, the continuity slate has little to say on this fundamental crisis of the Labour left and the lessons of the Corbyn years. Although its focus on democratising Momentum structures and community campaigns implies a ‘movementist’ critique of electoralism, it never distils this into strategic conclusions. Effectively, their strategy amounts to suggesting that, when the left eventually gets another shot at the Labour Party, it will do better, with fresh faces and more support from extra-parliamentary movements.
By contrast, Momentum Organisers are at least clear about their strategy for power—but unfortunately offer only a doubling down on the parliamentary road. In an interview with the New Socialist, Momentum Organisers clearly state ‘all roads run through Labour’ and suggest that winning positions in the Labour Party and then winning an election should be Momentum’s fundamental—essentially its sole—task. According to them, Momentum should stop pretending to be something it isn’t, leave the movementism to others and focus on winning state power via first-past-the-post.
Ultimately both groups accept Momentum’s role as an auxiliary movement for the left of the Parliamentary Labour Party and its existential task as getting left candidates and then a left Labour government elected. Their disagreements are not about the overall political strategy of the organisation, but about the best tactics for arriving at the same goal. Neither reckons seriously with why the left failed when it was in control of the party and what that says about our future prospects within Labour.
No matter how much the NCG might like to re-invigorate local Momentum groups, most of these have simply ceased to exist. It is no wonder that Momentum has atrophied in a political climate where huge chunks of the left have been purged from the Labour Party or torn up their membership cards in disgust at its positions and irrelevance, and with no realistic prospect of gaining power within the Party again in the coming years. People have turned to community campaigns and trade unionism in a search of different ways to rebuild left organisation and power. Attempting to convince people to get back to the routine of selection battles and motion-mongering without a clear argument for why this time will be different is a doomed approach.
The left is still desperately in need of national leadership—fragmented community campaigns and individual industrial disputes will never add up to the power we need to fundamentally transform society. With few alternatives out there, Momentum might still have a role to play here. Yet any organisation fit to lead a resistance against this government will need to start by giving people a reason to join. This will mean organising the left within and outside of the Labour Party, based on political priorities democratically decided by the membership, and providing determined and coordinated national leadership.
Most critically, we need an organised, national resistance movement to the cost of living crisis pushing hundreds into poverty every day. Workers Power has proposed a strategy for such a movement and is working with other organisations to establish local and national cost of living campaign groups; Momentum would do well to do so too. The left needs to build an organisation prepared to get involved in many different methods of struggle, increasingly outside of the electoral arena. Most importantly, we need an organisation clear about its goal—to protect working class interests and wage the struggle for power. Unless it is prepared to break from its single-minded focus on Labour, Momentum is likely to continue its slow decline, languishing on the sidelines of important struggles, much like the Parliamentary Labour Party itself.