By Ruth Cashman
Whether you think its purpose was building a mass social movement, winning a Labour government, holding left control of the Labour Party, democratising Labour, transforming the Labour movement, socialist education – Momentum has failed. Momentum has attracted and sometimes mobilised large numbers of people. But as a political organisation to push forward the transformation of the Labour Party and wider labour movement, and to educate and organise for class struggle, it is a negligible force.
Sometimes its influence has been conservative or even harmful. The global protests against racism and police brutality have shown up the embarrassment of the left’s most high profile campaign being more funding for the police.
Momentum Renewal and Forward Momentum are the most powerful factions, but it’s likely the biggest constituency in Momentum is an unorganised one – members who are frustrated and cannot be bothered with Momentum or its NCG elections.
Working in Momentum is frustrating and at times incredibly depressing, but those frustrations will in the next few months be dwarfed by a massive crisis. The next few years are likely to see the biggest crisis of capitalism, in any of our lifetimes. The left and labour movement needs to transform its organisations to be fit for this fight. With tens of thousands of members Momentum could play an important role in the coming crisis. To do that we will have to recognise where the Labour left and Momentum went wrong.
That is why I am standing on the Momentum Internationalists platform of democracy, class struggle and internationalism. Momentum Internationalists has not run a slate for the election but instead, put out a political programme for candidates to sign up to.
The programme centres around three big themes – democracy, class struggle and internationalism because these are Momentum’s key failures and the clearest route to the labour movement we need to face the current crisis.
Momentum’s failure is intertwined with its striking lack of internal democracy and the negative political culture it has generated. Despite talking about democratising Labour, Momentum has not only hesitated on pushing structural reforms like open selection, but encouraged trends of leadership adulation, top-down decision-making, and hostility to debate and dissent – the opposite of what we need. It neither has its own sovereign conference nor did it push for Labour Party conference to decide the Manifesto.
Capitalism by its nature produces crises, and capitalists by their nature will seek to make the working class pay for them. In the Covid-19 fallout, capitalists are driving for wage cuts, job losses, repossessions, and cuts in public services. There is, however, nothing inevitable about them succeeding. Struggle will decide.
The trade unions are the original, and still the best, ‘social movement’, reaching into pretty much every area of the country. Momentum had the potential to knit together political and industrial struggle, break down the barrier between working-class action (like strikes and demonstrations) and “politics” (done by professional politicians in Parliament). Instead, it saw clever branding and backroom deals as the route to socialism.
As a local government trade unionist, I was horrified when Momentum refused to back strikes against council cuts for fear of provoking the Labour right. In the case of my borough, Lambeth, its national leadership played a particularly bad role. Instead of helping to grow and transform unions, Momentum sought deals with the existing union leaderships allowing them to limit the programme for the left.
Instead of educating and organising socialists as fighters for a “world transformed” to replace capitalism, Momentum explicitly promotes the idea that partial “socialism” already exists in state intervention and that the job of “socialists” is to fight for more.
Momentum Internationalists wants a Momentum that actively fights climate change, with a Socialist Green New Deal including the full Labour Party conference policy, expanded to include public ownership of banking and finance and opposition to airport expansion. We must intervene in the trade unions in favour of rank-and-file coordination, democracy and radical action.
Too often the Labour Party including the left makes international solidarity contingent on electoral calculation. Momentum Internationalists fights for an internationalist labour movement. We stand in solidarity with workers and oppressed minorities across the globe. We challenge British nationalism, fight unequivocally for migrants’ rights, and to defend and extend free movement. We call for a Brexit extension to stop Johnson’s attempt to rush through a hard Brexit.
We foster solidarity with oppressed people in Palestine, Kurdistan, Uyghuristan, Kashmir, and across the world. This isn’t about box-ticking exercises or quickly forgotten conference resolutions. Momentum should build practical links with groups like Standing Together who oppose the annexation of the West Bank in Israel. Momentum Internationalists have held discussions with Jammu Kashmir Liberation Front and South Asia Solidarity on how to build alliances against Modi’s far-right expansionist project. We face a global right and must face it with an international and internationalist left.
• Ruth’s campaign Facebook page is here and her Twitter here
• For an interview with Abbie Clarke, also of Momentum Internationalists, who is standing on the Forward Momentum slate in the Midlands region, see here
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