By Michael Calderbank
Momentum needs internal reform, and that ultimately has to mean greater democratic involvement and ownership from the activists and local groups in whose name it purports to speak. But whilst necessary, in itself this won’t make the group fit for purpose, if that purpose is to build broad support for socialist ideas and a Labour government capable of realising them.
First we need to understand the nature of the political problem such a project faces. We have witnessed a gulf opening up between what counts today as “leftism” (the culture and priorities of radical activists) and a politics based on the self-organisation of the working class. As a result, the demographics of Labour Party membership, and within that the composition of members and followers of Momentum, is markedly unrepresentative of the wider electorate. Democratising Momentum’s structure without ensuring that its membership is drawn from social layers beyond student activists and “radical” academics could compound the problem.
The root of the problem is political not just organisational. Some of those who looked to Corbyn and Momentum have bought into a form of radical liberal politics (which largely emerged from the campus activism in the US) which only sees class as one dimension of a long-list of discriminated against identity-categories. “Classism” as an intersectionally cross-cutting axis along with racism, disablism, heteronormativity, transphobia etc. As a result white working class men and women – who might happen to be straight, able bodied and “cis-gendered” – are routinely represented as bearers of “privilege” in relation to socially privileged radical activists, irrespective of the economic and cultural exclusion they face. The result is a self-righteous minority which continues to marginalise and disparage the largest section of the working class, whilst simultaneously colonising and appropriating the very language and institutions of working class self-empowerment.
To give a small and unrepresentative section of primarily student left activists even more influence and control over the content of Momentum’s politics would only result in an even narrower and more aggressively virtue-signalling form of middle class liberal condescension than already exists. It would alienate still further the majority of the population from leftists politics.
Instead, democratisation of Labour and Momentum structures should be accompanied by a class politics and a class approach which seeks to make its own social composition more representative of communities which currently feel alienated from the politics and culture of “leftism”. We have to take back our institutions and language from the appropriation of the radical liberal progressives, and ensure that the Left, socialism and working class politics are not only seen as compatible but also convergent.
Before anyone suggests otherwise, this most certainly does NOT mean ditching a concerns with oppression which aren’t strictly based on class . The working class as it actually exists is multiracial, gendered, and includes minorities facing oppressions on grounds other than class. We absolutely should stand in solidarity with struggles for social justice on these grounds.
None of this is disputed. Our politics should represent all these important social struggles. But if we are content to represent a self-policing Woke elite content to celebrate its own “radical” credentials whilst disparaging the wider working class, we will condemn leftist politics to a richly deserved irrelevance.