From the 2019 general election to Covid-19, the last few months have been a hurricane of emotions and, for the Left, defeat. There is no escaping this. An opportunity for radical change has passed us by and the balance of forces within the Labour Party is almost unrecognisable from what it was a year ago.
But while much has changed, much remains the same. Poll after poll and conversations with members show that the overwhelming majority of Labour Party members still want their party to advocate for transformational economic and social change, and flagship policies, such as a Green New Deal, remain incredibly popular.
Momentum, too, is still a vibrant force. We have tens of thousands of members, and it was only half a year ago that our organisation was at the centre of an unprecedented electoral mobilisation. Despite the disorientation of defeat, as socialists in the Labour Party there is much in our favour.
What we need now, though, is strategy and organisation. We stood (and won) in the recent election for Momentum’s National Coordinating Group elections because we believe that Momentum can and must be at the driver of both.
As newly elected co-chairs of Momentum it is our ambition to rebuild Momentum as an effective socialist force that can effect change even without the support of the leadership. For us, the only way we do this is to unleash Momentum’s greatest resource: its membership. This doesn’t mean telling Momentum members what to do, as a general would their army; it means restructuring the organisation so members have the support they need to launch their own campaigns, and support others. This would mean a fundamental shift in Momentum’s organisational model, and that’s exactly what we’re going to do.
When defending the leadership of Jeremy Corbyn from coups, or when mobilising for general elections, Momentum’s top-down structures worked well enough. But there is now no Left leadership to defend, and while it is vital Momentum is the driving force behind the Left’s organisation within the Labour Party – both in internal elections and with policy – there are many more battles to fight. There were also huge hidden down sides to Momentum’s top-down approach. Treating members as data points hollowed out Momentum’s activist base, encouraging passive engagement with the organisation, rather than building deep, long-lasting bonds between activists that form the foundation of successful campaigning..
Right now, in Tower Hamlets, thousands of council workers are on strike against forced changes to their terms and conditions – being imposed on them by a Labour-led council. The local Tower Hamlets Momentum group are now mobilising in support of these strikes, and we believe it should be the role of Momentum nationally to support this activity, even if it means opposing the actions of a Labour-led council.
That’s why on Saturday’s meeting of the NCG – the very first full meeting we have attended – we tabled and passed a motion to publicly support the striking workers. This isn’t just about showing solidarity, but about Momentum intervening in a strategically vital battleground and helping to build capacity in struggle. It’s about Momentum supporting workers and trade unions locally, on the ground and where it matters. And over the coming years, as a long-term recession looms and the spectre of another decade of austerity hangs over the public sector, the need for local Momentum groups to be activated and fighting these struggles is critical. Momentum nationally, especially the NCG, must support activists on the ground every step of the way.
It is this type of work that helps build working-class power, and a stronger foundation for electoral success. In contrast, there have been few things more detrimental to Labour’s national electoral success than Labour councils delivering austerity without so much as an inch of resistance.
But we are not naïve. Just as there is no shortcut to socialism, there is no quick route to rebuilding Momentum, and mobilising in support of struggle everywhere. It will take patience and the involvement of Momentum members. But what we do have is a detailed manifesto and a united NCG committed to delivering it.
Over the next few years, our priorities at times will change as the political landscape shifts – we must therefore create mechanisms by which members can help to collectively develop strategy and decide priorities on a regular basis.
As a newly-elected NCG, our priority right now is to deliver a unified Left slate for the National Executive Committee (NEC) elections. The punishing timeline imposed by the Right of the party has left us no time to pioneer open primaries for Momentum (though we will in time), so our focus now is on delivering a united Left slate of committed socialists that can win. We will do everything we can to achieve this, even in the short time we have been given. And we will use this NEC campaign as an opportunity to put forward a vision for what a socialist Labour Party looks like and how we can win on a radical platform in 2024.
We must and will lead criticisms of Keir Starmer, especially if he continues to attack the Left, dismiss vibrant social movements for systematic change, such as Black Lives Matter, and abandon the radical policy that so many Labour members, and much of the wider country, want.
But the Left is at its best when we are creative as well as determined. We must not define ourselves exclusively by opposition. We must continue to develop transformative socialist policy and set an agenda for change. We must organise in every region and nation, in our CLPs and in support of workplace struggles. We must scale up political education and candidate training, to help support a new generation of socialists.
Over the two years of our term, we are determined to make Momentum a vital hub for all of this, and if you are a member, or if you are considering becoming one, we invite you to get involved. We are only just beginning.