Monday 19 September 2016

Momentum is Nothing Like Militant

Asked whether Momentum should be compared with Militant, the rapidly diminishing Owen Smith replied "Creating a big 'M' at the front of their name should give the game away." He went on to argue Momentum is a party within a party, an outfit organising around its priorities, personnel, and policies. He could almost be talking about Progress. Except, of course, Momentum doesn't publish its own magazine, nor is it an "unaccountable faction dominated by a secretive billionaire", as one of its leading lights described his organisation a year ago.

The fact is there is nothing untoward about Momentum at all. And you don't have to take my word for it, just watch Channel 4's Dispatches on the very same. We were sold a shocking tale of people rallying around Jeremy Corbyn's leadership, of three AWL supporters filmed saying terribly controversial things at a Momentum meeting, of issues around branding, and the blurring of work between Momentum and Jeremy 4 Labour campaigning. Just like folk sold on Moon landing hoaxery because they don't understand light and reflection in Apollo photographs, you'd have to be a political ingenue to believe this shoddy journalism uncovered a dastardly plot.

Having been an active member of Militant's successor party, knowing many friends and comrades from the "old organisation", and, well, a PhD in Trottery, it's reasonable to suggest I'm qualified enough to speak on this matter. Momentum categorically is not Militant in new clothing. The Militant Tendency, or to use its undercover name, the Revolutionary Socialist League was a Trotskyist outfit that had worked in Labour for decades to build itself up, in far left terms, as a substantial organisation. It had a central committee, regional and branch structures, operated its own funding and propaganda and, most crucially, exerted its own discipline on its ranks. Famously, at one point Militant were said to have more full-timers than the Labour Party itself! While I'm opposed to that kind of politics now, Militant did bequeath a few positives to our party and movement. Unlike most far left outfits that are predominantly middle class, Militant was as workerist in its composition as the old Communist Party was in its heyday. It brought disaffected working class youngsters into politics and, despite losing nearly all of them as it declined from the 80s on, many of these comrades continued their commitment to the Labour Party and/or labour movement politics. My late friend Eddie Truman was one of them, for example.

Momentum is nothing like Militant. It is a network with a steering committee that organises openly in support of Jeremy Corbyn and the sorts of policies he favours. That is what it is, that is all it is. I know if I want to join Momentum, I can fill out a form online and give the local organiser a ring. There's no qualifying period for membership, no punishing membership educationals, no tedious pamphlets to remember for the next lead off, no unaccountable central committee to bark orders at me. Everything is open and above board. And it cannot be otherwise. As we've seen, the huge army of new members the Labour Party has gained flooded in thanks to networks established online and in real life between left leaning but otherwise atomised and fresh people. The old hands of the 1980s who evidently stalk Neil Kinnock's nightmares are vanishingly small in number and are totally swamped. And so to harness the support of the new members, only an organisation that is totally transparent, easy to get involved with, and mirrors the properties of the network would do. There's a reason why dull, plodding authoritarian outfits like the Socialist Party (despite its mini-Militant rebrand) and the SWP rape cult have been left out in the cold. As it stands, Momentum is a good way of consolidating these new members and turning them to campaigning activity, both with the party and in other labour movement campaigns.

Of course, what we're dealing with here are not honest, mistaken criticisms about Momentum. Some folks might be hoodwinked by contested reports of shouting in meetings, and of idiot anti-semites who badge themselves as Momentum, but ultimately Momentum is a proxy. It stands in for everything the old Labour establishment fears and hates about the new Labour Party. They hate the fact hundreds of thousands have joined and even more could be poised to flood in after Jeremy's leadership is reconfirmed later this week. They hate the fact their stitch up culture has now been rendered largely obsolete, and most of all they hate how these members have taken control away from them. Momentum is a lightning rod for all their fear, their bile, their impotence and they are worried Momentum can only consolidate this hold the new members have even further. For them, the name calling and proscription threats are desperate (and are seen as desperate) efforts to disperse this nascent organising capacity before it gets off the ground.

Militant and Momentum are antipodes, not twins. And anyone pretending otherwise is genuinely clueless and has no understanding of each, or are deeply, truly cynical.


Speedy said...

The Momentum ruling cadre remind me of the "black lives matter" brigade who stormed London airport - a bunch of Trustafarians.

So you're right - they're not much like Militant, which was attempting to gain control of a party that held the prospect of power - instead they represent the bourgeois interest plotting to steer it further into powerlessness. As one of them said: "winning elections doesn't matter". Well, it doesn't if you don't need the work, a decent social safety net, education system, etc.

These people are the end, not the beginning, of a process. Their only sense of urgency is to fulfil their own sense of self-righteous entitlement so they can feel properly superior (as they have been raised to feel since birth), and never mind the "chavs" that get crushed along the way. These people have nothing in common with the Labour movement, they are class enemies, the flip side of the bourgeois coin, if only you could see it.

Paul Ewart said...

The cynicism knows no bounds: it is truly fathomless. We see it every day with the weaponising of identity politics despite the very real risk of appealing to just the type of right-wing lunatics that attacked Jo Cox and drove Pat Glass out of politics.

Sean Thompson said...

Speedy, do you know which Momentum member actually said that 'winning elections doesn't matter' or is it just something that you have heard somewhere. Anecdote doesn't deserve to be taken seriously evidence unless it can be backed up and verified.

Speedy said...

Sean Thompson. Jon Lansman, the founder of Momentum.

Alex Ross said...

Agree they are not Militant - but self-styled "activists" do have a tendency to rub people up in the wrong way. I've mentioned before about how impressed I was with Uruguayan left-culture from the long conversations I had over there (a left which is actually in power BTW). No shouty accusations of treachery/ boring nostalgia...a pluralistic political culture...lots of interesting and contested radical ideas about wealth distribution, ecology, direct-democracy being thrown around and contested...

If Momentum can morph into something similar, then that would be really exiting for UK politics. At the moment, I'm a cynic - at the very least, can we ban the word "smear" for anyone who dares to criticise St. Jeremy. If you don't like being accused of being a personality cult - then don't act like one!!

BCFG said...

speedy is a far right contradiction who hates the Middle class but supports them, is anti war pro war marcher, is a champion of the working class and an opponent of working class political representation etc etc.

He is a Greek bearing gifts and not bearing gifts.

He is the confusion in the clarity, the shit in the cream, the bile in the purity.

He is ultimately the anecdote that deserve to be taken seriously .

Igor Belanov said...

@ Alex Ross

"If Momentum can morph into something similar, then that would be really exiting for UK politics. At the moment, I'm a cynic - at the very least, can we ban the word "smear" for anyone who dares to criticise St. Jeremy. If you don't like being accused of being a personality cult - then don't act like one!!"

The simple fact of the matter is that if Momentum didn't exist then Corbyn would have been forced out of his position months ago. It has effectively organised masses of Labour members and supporters to defend the man they wanted as leader of the party. As such, it has been inevitable that Momentum's activities have focused around the man himself. Hardly a 'personality cult'. I also expect that, given half a chance, Corbyn will welcome the opportunity to concentrate on campaigning and opening Labour up to a debate about the party's policies and strategy rather than people obsessing about his position as leader.

jim mclean said...

Just a new lot of people doing the stitch up. An Oxbridge elite once more at the van of Labour.

John Rogan said...

You're right that Momentum and Militant are different but I would not go as far as to say they are "antipodes".

Momentum is more of a united front of the Labour Left which includes the Trotskyists like the AWL. In this respect, they are more akin to the Labour Representation Committee (2004 variety) and the alliances built in the 80's like the Bennite Rank and File Organising Committee.

Momentum has, after all, come to the defence of the AWL's Jill Mountford and she continues to be on their National Steering Committee despite being expelled from Labour.

As for the SP and the SWP not being allowed into leadership roles in Momentum, that's a decision based on their continuing to stand candidates against Labour. The SWP are anti-entryist but the future direction of the SP is unclear at the moment. The AWL said earlier this year that some SP members were joining Labour and carrying out "investigatory work" [1] so I wouldn't be surprised to see more of them appearing after "resigning" from the SP.

As to how Momentum would react to "ex" SP members getting involved, well we can only wait and see. Especially as they've been very opposed (e.g. Jon Lansman) to the SP turning up to their meetings [2].