Tuesday, 1 November 2016

Momentum's Double Vision

Hahaha, look at the Momentum Trot rabble. Jeremy Corbyn was re-elected five minutes ago, and they're fighting like ferrets in a sack. That sentiment, if not very similar words, have found themselves tweeted and shared over social media in recent days. As details emerged of division in Momentum over procedural matters, you might be forgiven for thinking hay-making detractors couldn't care less about such things. Like whether a sitting leader should be on a leadership ballot paper. Or fuss the appointment of an loyalist shadcab NEC member to the party's executive body so it more reflects the will of the members and affiliates that supported and voted for him. Or if the PLP should elect the shadow cabinet. Boring bureaucratic niceties they'd never get worked up about at all.

I'm not a member of Momentum, but I do think it's vital for Labour's continued health. It has helped mobilise a new layer of activists around matters not confined to the party leadership. But, for sure, its existence certainly helped resist this summer's failed putsch and played its part in ensuring Jeremy Corbyn was reaffirmed by a country mile. People entirely new to politics have got involved and are slowly, steadily integrating into the timetable and rhythms of party activity without being stultified by it. There are future MPs, cabinet members, and perhaps even a Prime Minister who've joined Momentum. In short, the organisation is integral to the Corbyn project of opening the Labour Party up to the people we were set up to represent, and drawing in the rising layer of networked working class people. Momentum is in the process of becoming a conduit between the party and the ceaseless budding of grassroots mobilisations that often times bypass the labour movement, its promise working toward combining power politics with the sweep and breadth of a movement of movements. What happens here matters.

The present dispute is ostensibly caught up in constitutional matters, of whether Momentum's steering committee, formally a sub-committee of the National Committee, has the right to cancel the latter's meetings, and the meeting that decided this was called with 19 hours notice. Not great as it reminds one more of the kind of shenanigans the party's NEC has long been accustomed to than the straight talking, honest politics of Corbynism. While wrong and a touch shabby, the dispute has opened up two visions of the way forward.

The first is traditional organisation. Momentum groups should elect delegates and send them to national conference to steer policy and determine objectives. The alternative, as set out by Christine Shawcroft, is to try and build an electronic infrastructure that allows for the participation of all members. A noble reason, but perhaps not the real reason. Worth noting here is that local campaign groups, where they exist, can easily come under the control of unrepresentative cliques. The Alliance for Workers' Liberty and sundry sectarians spring to mind, seeing as their presence has been a focus of recent media attention. Yet as annoying, out-of-place, and out-of-step they are with what Momentum could be, much worse are careerists and opportunists riding the bandwagon. There is very little to be gained and everything to lose by empowering them.

The second point is that Corbyn's original campaign married the movement networks of the Labour left with huge numbers mobilised via social media. Momentum already has considerable experience with this method of organising and, crucially, many thousands got their first taste of participating in politics this way. It's messy and might not work, but it's worth experimenting with. After all, local groups as foci of activity aren't about to be abolished - rather decision making will be dispersed across networks. Members in the middle of nowhere will have as much chance to input as those crowded in the big cities. It aligns with the networked sensibilities of the activists already drawn into Momentum's orbit, of their habits of doing and thinking about politics - a culture that sits at odds with the delegate model.

As the former approach hasn't got the left very far in recent years, why not give something new a try?


Paul Ewart said...

The Mo'mentum Trumpton site has to be one the saddest things I've ever seen. Imagine going to such effort.....

Boffy said...

Something certainly needs to be done to make Momentum a democratic body that represents the thousands of ordinary LP members that have honestly joined it, and prevents those with "sharp elbows" as Trotsky described those who pushed their way on to the Soviets, from having a grossly inflated representation, which can only damage Momentum, the LP and the provide ammunition to the Right.

How can it be right, for example, that the AWL that only a few years ago were describing the Labour Party as a stinking corpse, which then stood its own candidate against Labour in the 2010 General Election, who only received a less than derisory 75 votes, now have that same candidate sitting on Momentum's leading committees?

Its in large part because these sects are sects with such little real mass support that they are led to using undemocratic methods to get themselves into these positions, that also leads to the continual schisms and in fighting between them, which time and again wrecks any organisation or movement they come into contact with.

I think that what Paul Mason has had to say Why I Joined Momentum, has a lot to commend it.

Igor Belanov said...

The problems with Momentum have little to do with 'sects'.

The basic contradiction in the movement is between those who regard it as a means of providing a support base for Corbyn's leadership and a counter to the PLP and party bureaucracy, and those who support Corbyn but see Momentum and his leadership as a means of thoroughly democratising and radicalising the party.

The difficulty is that the essentially self-appointed leaders of Momentum largely see themselves as Corbyn's political bodyguard, and have swung along with the leader's desire to compromise with the rebels and focus now on playing the usual bureaucratic manoeuvres that are the case in most oligarchic political groups.

Many Momentum supporters have quite rightly reacted to this as a means of marginalising their views and restricting them to the kind of passive support role beloved of previous Labour leaders. Using social media and the internet in a kind of 'plebiscitory' method is actually less democratic than 'traditional' types of delegated democracy, which are more transparent and tend to be better at empowering people to get involved. A small clique much prefers to keep its freedom of manoeuvre by carrying out its business at an institutional distance.

Anonymous said...

Igor has the crux of the issue. It is also the culmination of HQ's aloof, poor communications, the lack of local funds (branches must beg for money from HQ), and the much more rapid ability of people of dissenting views to find and communicate with each other.

It's not just that Momentum HQ wants to be Corbyn's praetorian guard. In their efforts to marry with the right wing of the party, they are actively attacking their own membership. Firstly they brief in the media anti-semitism slurs against JAckie Walker, thereby legimitising the anti-semitism on the left trope. Then they depict their internal opposition as Trots and entryists. It's politically moronic and will vanishingly quickly evaporate whatever legimacy they have left.

The great thing is that it's flushing out all the loyalists out into the open and giving the perfect reason for the membership to actively collaborate with each other. Like any crap coup, it strengthens the resilence of democracy.