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Corbymania and Momentum

Momentum  iconNot being totally on the ball, I missed last week’s announcement that supporters of Jeremy’s successful leadership bid had declared their own organisation: Momentum. And now I’m over my curmudgeonly curmudgeonness, I’m going to take this opportunity to welcome it as a good thing.

It can go some way to addressing the “problem” of the Corbyn surge. This isn’t a problem in terms of numbers, or that plenty of MPs are worried they may face deselection (IMO, reselection should be a matter of course), but one of harnessing the new found enthusiasm and integrating the masses of new members into the party. Both could prove difficult because a lot of the new intake appear either to be very raw, or are so-called ‘values voters‘ turned active: political commitment is an expression of individual values and personality traits, hence Labour has “come to them” rather than the other way round. That in mind, the trusty old structures of the party might not be the best way of retaining and training these new comrades.

From what I can tell, Corbynmania possessed the properties of a craze rather than a social movement. That’s not a value judgement but rather an appreciation of the type of collective behaviour it initially manifested as. Allow me to explain.

Huge numbers of people were responding as individuals (heavily mediated by social media) to Jeremy’s campaign. This is qualitatively different from, say, the hard work Anna Turley and the local party are putting in in Redcar yielding thousands of new recruits galvanised by the SSI closure, the government’s refusal to do anything, and the campaign against.

The latter is, forgive the ghastly phrase, ‘immediately immediate’ while the former has a certain dislocated character that appeared immediate thanks to the collapse in distance social media, and Twitter in particular, can simulate. As I’ve written before in a totally different context, that doesn’t mean the feeling and commitment it inspires is inauthentic or hollow, but it does pose difficulties when translating that into real world action. Let’s be frank, monthly CLP and ward branch meetings are hardly the best showcase for the party. You turn up wanting to change the world and debate policies, and instead all you get is hairsplitting about last month’s minutes and points of order.

Momentum, which presents as an open movement working to “organise in every town, city and village … to encourage mass mobilisation for a more democratic, equal and decent society” appears well suited to capturing and steering the tens of thousands of new members. It can sort meetings and arrange campaign activity without the (IMO necessary) tedium properly constituted meetings of the party sometimes entails. It can sidestep the logjams of party cliques ensconced in local apparatuses, or the recalcitrance of MPs and their offices to campaign regularly and/or take a lead in organising voter registration, or campaign officers who can’t be arsed.

And most importantly it can organise on cross-constituency bases by intervening in or starting community/workplace campaigns outside of the electorally focused work of the party’s established local campaign forums. In short, it presents as a free flowing, fluidic organisation of networks of activists that are characteristic of mobilisations in the internet age. Corbynmania started as a craze but went on to become something else. And as sociologists of collective action will tell you, it’s what toppled Arab dictators too.

Understandably, not everyone is cock-a-hoop about Momentum. The proposal to “make Labour a more democratic party, with the policies and collective will to implement them in government” have led some to attack it for factionalising (a crime the Labour right are definitely not guilty of what with their networks of cliques, think tanks, and open factions). Apart from the hysteria, there are signs sober thinking is starting to prevail.

Richard Angell of Progress has dispensed some friendly(ish) advice, and Labour First have finally come out semi-openly. If the Labour right want to claw back lost ground, the way isn’t the fixes and dirty tricks of old – as outlined in John Golding’s compulsive The Hammer of the Left – not least because they’re open to easy exposure, but by the good old method of out-campaigning, out-recruiting, and out-arguing. The right have got to get persuasive otherwise it will never win the hearts and minds it needs to.

Nevertheless, all party members should welcome Momentum, and even sell-out husks like me should get involved where possible. I want to see a strong Labour Party and strong labour movement. That can be helped by Momentum serving as a bridge that integrates new members slowly into the party, habituates them to working with others who they may otherwise disagree with while fulfilling immediate campaign objectives. And who knows? The new arrivals might teach the old guard a trick or two as well.

This article first appeared at All that is Solid

12 Comments

  1. J.P. Craig-Weston says:

    “All discarded lovers should be given a second chance, but with somebody else.”

    ― Mae West

  2. David Pavett says:

    I agree with Phil B-C’s analysis. The massive influx of new members has not, by itself, created a new base from which to transform Labour into a Party that conforms to its own self-description as democratic and socialist. For that a lot of work has to be done and that work must not be seen as taking over positions as officees, councillors etc while everything else remains the same. The Party has to learn to work in a new way based on informed democratic debate and a much raised general level of understanding. That is an immense task.

    There are people on the left who have a very narrow view of what changing the Party means. It is too often thought of as capturing positions and getting motions passed for minority positions while the mass of the membership neither knows nor understands what is happening. It is this sort of actvity which is most likely to undermine Corbyn/McDonnell.

    The right, as Phil indicates, has understood, given the scale if Corbyn’s victory, that it must now work through the base of the Party and not just through manoeuvring at the top. In this they have a well-oiled machine in Progress along with fear of the new, lack of understanding and lethargy throughout the Party as a whole. The left is by contrast fragmented and factious. This is a battle it will lose if it does not change.

    I really hope that Momentum will provide the framework for that change but I have yet to see the evidence for that. Can it break with the old style of left position capturing, resolution passing that leaves the majority unconvinced? Can it provide the framework for a real democratic renaissance within Labour? If it doesn’t do that then the historic opportunity provided by the election of Corbyn will be lost.

  3. David Ellis says:

    People seem to think Momenutm is some kind of Trot infiltration vehicle but in actual fact the Trots, so-called, and I say so-called because they are really now just neo-Stalinist, self-serving sects, are far too busy with their own little projects like TUSC and Left Unity and have had zero impact on the events surrounding Corbyn’s election. No the problem with Momentum might well be that it is dominated by Zombie Stalinists trying to consolidate Corbyn’s rule at the cost of debate and impose their own rather cynical pro-Putin view of the world on the labour movement. Whilst the bureaucracy is the policeman of the labour movement Stalinism has always been the policeman of the bureaucracy.

    1. David Ellis says:

      Don’t get me wrong, I absolutely agree that the right wing MPs have to be de-selected and the PLP, the ultimate party within a party, abolished and MPs subordinated to the will of the membership, and a faction LIKE Momentum which I intend to participate in is necessary to fight the New Labour faction within the party or even if necessary to lead a split away from the party but its politics remain vague and the fear must be that it might seek to consolidate victory exclusively through organisational measures rather than through political struggle and that ultimately those organisational measures will be used against socialists to the left of Corbyn’s rather mild and uncertain anti-austerity narrative.

    2. David Pavett says:

      Debate from this point is only going to be productive if we discuss the policies, strategy and tactics that people actually advocate rather that through the labels that some attach to them (“so-called Trots”, “neo-Stalinists”, “Zombie Stalinists” etc). There can be no hope of an intelligent debate if we go down that path.

    3. Verity says:

      As I understand it Stalinism is a phenomenon associated with political struggles and intrigues of an underdeveloped country just short of a century ago. I am regularly disappointed that the level of our discussions do not appear to have the imaginative leap to point to modern and immediately pertinent examples from our own age and type of society to help today’s communication with the great (great) grandchildren who have to conduct political activity today’s conditions.

      1. David Pavett says:

        Quite right.

      2. David Ellis says:

        You understand it wrong. Stalinist parties still exist all around the world even though the Soviet Union collapsed 25 years ago. Many have simply swapped Uncle Joe with the kleoptocrat gangster Putin on the grounds of anti-imperialism and they still support third world semi-colonial tyrannies against revolution.

        1. John P Reid says:

          Defending Stalinism in this thread, I’ve heard it all

  4. Nicky G says:

    Whatever Corbyn’s victory achieves in the end at the very least it has sparked a seed in thousands and thousands of left leaning people who have a hope for a better society in this country. This is very important, from small acorns grow large trees.

  5. Robert says:

    Here we go again Progress from the right and Momentum for the left, will they both hand pick candidates and put them into seats to battle it out, parties within parties.

    Progress is seen as being the right wing voice of Blair but it is well beyond Blair now.

    I doubt these groups will end up being around long not after the disaster of last night vote on Osborne Fiscal Charter with 23 right wingers deliberately voting against Corbyn.

    And oh boy Hunt Kendall Leslie and few other of the Blair-rites showing Corbyn his battles are not just against the Tories but Labour right wingers as well.

    Mind you Corbyn made it very easy for them to do it.

    1. David Ellis says:

      What labour actually needs is a Bolshevik faction.

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