Momentum Renewal and class politics

Submitted by AWL on 24 May, 2020 - 6:33 Author: Mohan Sen
Momentum Renewal

Just by scanning its founding supporters list, you can see that Momentum Renewal is a version of “continuity Momentum”, supported by the bulk of those responsible for the organisation’s trajectory over the last three and half years.

In some respects MR is almost certainly worse than "continuity". It seems to represent not just the existing Momentum office faction, but a particular wing of it - by and large, the worst wing of it.

Those behind it were in general defenders of Momentum as it existed until the moment this campaign was launched. They militantly opposed democratic, class-struggle and socialist criticisms of the organisation; and in so far as they criticised it, it was from the right, from a viewpoint that was more nationalistic, more Stalinist and weaker on tackling antisemitism. Now they are adopting Momentum democracy and class politics as convenient banners.

They say they want to “put Momentum back in the hands of its members” and bandy about around the word democratic. No one should believe that, given their record – destroying Momentum’s democracy, imposing undemocratic structures and rules which they then ignored at their convenience, and creating a toxic culture in which criticism and even disagreement are often met with denunciation and witch-hunting. Many of those who have signed the Momentum Renewal statement have been the worst witch-hunters.

In the Labour Party too, these people have – in the teeth of the membership surge and its aspirations for democratisation – done little to fight for democracy, actually degraded it in some areas (eg Young Labour) and created a culture inhospitable to discussion and debate.

Even if you could take them at face value, the procedural changes MR advocates go nowhere near meaningful democratisation. They are obviously written to avoid anything too close to membership control over decision-making – eg a real conference, but “a strategic review, with strategy papers circulated [and] workshops and debates”.

MR’s other selling-point is that it stands for a movement “rooted in working-class communities” and so on. Many of its supporters have taken to social media to proclaim MR as the voice of class politics and decry rival organisation Forward Momentum as middle-class, liberal, London-centric, etc. Most incoherently and hypocritically, given the culture the MR people have helped to entrench in Momentum and more broadly over the last five years, they have attacked "NGO culture".

Making class central is good. Prominent Scottish activist Matt Kerr, who is supporting Momentum Renewal, has written a decent article for Tribune which makes the case for class-struggle politics in general terms, but does not explain why this suggests support for MR.

Matt has an eloquent phrase about “simply protecting the leadership at the expense of broader political ambitions”. That is precisely a large part of what has been wrong with Momentum since 2017 – but the organisers of MR supported this approach and were central to implementing it.

Over the last three years Momentum has done very little to promote class politics and class consciousness. It has done very little to support working-class struggles – even when asked directly for support. It has refused to call for repeal of the anti-trade union laws, despite this being both Labour conference policy and agreed by the National Coordinating Group.

It has predominantly pursued political relationships with top trade union officials, elected and unelected, not grassroots workplace and union activists – and encouraged young activists to get jobs in the bureaucracy, not in workplaces where they can organise. The MR supporters list is no more flush with rank-and-file union activists than the Forward Momentum one.

Any suggestion from MR supporters that they want to see this change should not be treated as reliable. Again, because of the record of most of those involved; and because, beyond stock phrases, MR as an organisation has little to say about what it advocates in terms of working-class struggles and demands.

Of course some individual MR supporters may be more serious and sincere; but in general both democratic reform and class politics seem to be convenient pitches to keep control of the organisation - so that there will be no actual democratic disruption, however limited, to the status quo. There may be some cosmetic smartening up; but in general the trajectory of an MR-controlled Momentum will most likely be worse than at present.

Given the Morning Star-connections and Stalinist-influenced politics of so many of those involved, and the prominent role of MPs like Ian Lavery and Jon Trickett, phrases like “working class”, “communities”, etc, also function as code for nationalistic, conservative left politics.

Although its founding statements avoid mentioning these issues, MR is clearly a pro-Brexit and anti-free movement campaign. Many of its supporters undoubtedly hold regressive, Morning Star-type positions on others issue too, for instance on antisemitism, on China’s brutal suppresson of the Uyghurs and on trans rights.

A large part of why Momentum Renewal can engage in democratic- and socialist-sounding demagogy is the political woolliness of its main opponents, Forward Momentum. Clear, adequate positions and arguments on Momentum democracy, on the struggle in the Labour Party and on the wider class struggle could quickly destroy MR’s pretensions. That is what Momentum Internationalists is fighting for, in Forward Momentum and more generally.

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