Transforming Momentum

By labour transformed

You could be forgiven for thinking that membership of a political party at times feels more like being the member of a fanclub than being an active participant in the struggle for social justice. Recent news stories, such as reports of the Starmer administration looking to recruit candidates from outside the party, only seem to confirm that many in the highest echelons of the Labour Party would prefer that rank-and-file members pay their monthly subs, knock on doors at election time and don’t bother getting involved in intra-party governance. Being a member of the Labour Party all too often feels like being a cog in a machine that doesn’t care about you.

We at labour transformed see the current Momentum Refounding as a crucial conjuncture and opportunity to ensure that it doesn’t go down the same organisational road as the Labour Party at large. In fact, we feel that a vibrant Momentum can only emerge if Momentum decouples itself from the Labour Party. This isn’t to say that we give up on fighting battles within Labour, but that we are better placed to demand change and hold firm to socialist principles when we have some autonomy.

The question that we put to the refounding process is thus: “What should it mean to be a member of Momentum?” Put succinctly, we believe that all Momentum members, from the rank-and-file to Members of Parliament, need to have the ability to meaningfully participate in decision making, to cohere around shared aims and to hold members at all levels accountable.

One of the key pillars of our submission is that Momentum needs to be more than simply a Labour Party faction. There is an appetite for organising, from local grassroots to international solidarity, that goes beyond the current system. When membership of Momentum is bound to membership of the Labour Party, it creates a wholly untenable situation where the direction taken by the UK’s largest left wing membership organisation is largely determined by the machinations of the Labour Party.

We are calling for Momentum to democratically develop a politics and then work collectively to support and advance what is agreed. This would also allow Momentum to make strategic political alliances and fight for socialism on all terrains. While there are still battles to be fought within the Labour Party, there are struggles that require organising, unconstrained by Labourism, whether it’s fighting right wing councils or participating in abolitionist movements.

To be clear, this is not a call for a free-for-all when it comes to membership. Indeed rather than making admission dependent on Labour membership, we see value in Momentum’s foundations being built on the platform we’re fighting for. To be effective we need to pull in the same direction and it is not enough to simply say that Momentum is “left wing”, because an unfocused concept leads to unbalanced and even contradictory politics.

With this in mind, our submission to the Refounding recommends that Momentum adopt a definition of socialism that accepts the imperative to abolish class society, and accepts the state as a site of struggle. The state is not a static institution but “a process by which class relations are transformed into institutional forms”.

Expanding on this, we also invite discussion of the understanding of Labourism. Labourism, where it’s understood at all, is too often explained away as a set of behaviours; Labour politicians ‘melting’ due to a lack of moral courage or loyalty to the cause. We assert that Labourism is a structural phenomenon – and that this ‘meltiness’ stems from the relative privilege derived by the British working class from Britain’s status as an imperial power and the moderate trade unionism that resulted from this in the second half of the 19th century. We ask Momentum members to read our definitions in full (points g1 and g2), and ask those comrades to urge the organisation to adopt the proposals in order to facilitate the development of a shared vision and plan of action.

By having a clear sense of direction and purpose, Momentum would thus be in a strong position to develop a member-led political platform. Many organisations and parties on the left pay lip service to democratic organising, but it is much more difficult to put this into practice. Our proposal calls for a democratic process for developing Momentum’s political platform, and for institutional mechanisms that guarantee Momentum members intellectual participation in the political platform. We propose that all members, whether as a group or individually, can contribute to the political platform of Momentum in many ways, all of them deliberative and democratic.

In addition to promoting engagement at local and regional level, this process would aim to maximise participation among a wider range of members via the use of a specifically designed digital democracy platform, developing, discussing, and refining proposals. Member-led working groups, selected by sortition, would then be tasked with cohering member submissions into coherent platforms to be debated at a live-streamed National Convention prior to an OMOV ballot. Our proposal aims to produce a strong institutional coherence that would be invaluable for strategic purposes, not imposed from above but driven by bottom-up democratic engagement.

In this system, Momentum’s NCG’s role becomes that of facilitator and the politics come from the members. Our proposals are formulated to make Momentum less hierarchical. We also call for the Members’ Council to have ‘teeth’, and be able to recall NCG decisions if they are seen to be in contradiction to the political platform. Furthermore, we ask that the NCG abide by two term limits so as to prevent ossification of power and to encourage political education within Momentum to lift new leaders.

Finally, while we want Momentum to be independent and to be active on the wider socialist left, we do not think Momentum should withdraw support from key sites of struggle within Labour. But we feel that if Momentum is to offer its support to MPs and PPCs at national and local battlegrounds, then we expect those in the seats of power to be with us. This means that Momentum should only support candidates for elected roles and jobs that are members of Momentum and will actively fight for our political platform. This is how we build accountability for all members of Momentum at all levels.

In summary, we see huge potential for Momentum to act as a major force for the UK left, but in order to do so, it needs to consider who its members are and what responsibilities they have. We argue that the de facto political mode of treating members as mere supporters is neither democratic nor pragmatic when it comes to building a mass movement on the left.

The refounding process has been a crucial first step in engaging members from the current NCG and this step should be applauded. We hope that our suggestions can be deliberated by Momentum members and that better structures of engagement will lead to the collective creation of a clear and coherent political programme.

labourtransformed is a group of anti-capitalists organising for socialism. You can read their full submission to the Momentum Refounding process here. On twitter here.

Image: Source: Momentum at the Stop Trump Rally. Author: Garry Knight from London, England,  licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license.

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