Momentum halted?

WARNING: This was written when tired, and is probably confused as hell.

Momentum. Technically a member, though mostly this is in the hope of finding people who overlap with Open Labour and maybe a bit for the debate. I got scared off organisationally by the removal of an innocuous non-violence clause at the start, and dipped my toe personally about a year or so ago. There are plenty of well motivated and clever people and much potential for good in the organisation. There are also some real shits. And where the good and bad are in operation, they are often followed by the ugly, so it’s said.

I do find that one really frustrating aspect of Momentum is a kind of smiley optimism that pretends there are no internal contradictions and no challenges even though that’s the whole joke, and everybody knows. Socialism will win, Jeremy is more popular than ever, we are strong and beloved, yadda yadda. Please keep the curtains closed, comrade.

Everybody wants a box of chocolates
And a long-stem rose…

It jars. I’m a cynical grown-up punk kid who thinks that a) everything is at least a bit rubbish and b) most people are posing or going easy on themselves most of the time.

So I can’t believe that there’s not more self-loathing irony and self-deprecation going on. Tell me what’s hard. What’s messing you up? How do I connect, what makes this better? Then I’m interested. It never feels nice, but it does refine everything nicely.

In that spirit, I thought I’d list myself the main Momentum binary splits. What I thought would be 2 or 3 quickly became a huge (and non-exhaustive) list:

  • How to treat outright conspiracists or anti-Semites in particular
  • Have the conspiracists been invented by Mossad because they are shit scared of the power of Canary articles?
  • Trade unions: aid or obstacle
  • Trots vs tankies vs former Green voters
  • How important is internal democracy? How to cope with left elites and power cliques?
  • Whether to be a social movement or an inward faction
  • How to treat the *spits* soft left
  • Should we expel the social democrats?
  • Are we the social democrats?
  • Are the social democrats us?
  • How to treat the pre-existing Bennite left
  • When to make concessions at conference
  • Wait, are those our delegates?
  • ‘Wokescolds vs class reductionists’
  • The Environment vs Ian Lavery
  • Internationalism: what is it, how does it relate to protectionism, international institutions, to imperialism, democracy, human rights?
  • Which MPs to promote or disparage
  • What magazine is allowed?
  • Did John McDonnell really say that? Show me.
  • Why are you still reading this?
  • Which Young Labour personalities or other slebs to love or hate?
  • Ends vs Means vs People who see no relationship
  • Unimaginative legalists vs Abstract daydreamers, especially re. local government
  • MMT vs non-MMT-Post-Keyensians vs Degrowth
  • Cookie Dough vs Phish Food
  • Paul Mason

If Momentum was only held together by Corbyn and his position as a leader, then the contradictions in Momentum date at least to when it was founded – though more have become apparent from those early seeds.

For me I think this is what happens when you start by sketching the wrong mission (‘advance Corbynism’ rather than widen or consolidate it) and recruiting the wrong membership as a result, and being landed with inconsistent values and outcomes. The rest follows from these original sins.

The outcomes of this were also important. Instead of getting a multi-tendency coalitionist type of culture we see in, say Podemos or Syriza, in Momentum a culture of open domination as a goal has combined with a defencist attitude to the leadership and made a political debate or decision on pluralism and context impossible.

‘Who are we, what are we for, how do we do it, who can help’ are all questions Momentum gets by on refusing to answer. This makes it markedly different from what the organisation itself sees as fairly successful comparators.

The ultimate result of this is a faction/company which has seemed to many to be inconsistent with its own stated values of greater democracy and kinder politics, both inside and outside itself.

Politically, and despite good intentions and efforts, its image and credibility issues have knocked on. Where the left should take innovative and radical ideas into what is considered mainstream, too often it has taken what were once fairly mainstream views and got them written off as radical.

But with this membership and self-image, there was never any way for Momentum to pitch as the sensible organisation for the advancement of normal people – even though that’s exactly what a hegemonic left politics should look like.

I will vote in the NCG elections for whoever wants the Momentum to do more to work with the rest of the party and the soft left in particular, and whoever will brings its practices more inline with the values it claims to stand for. I have much more optimism about the idea of this organisation than its makeup or its practices. And I’m still not seeing enough honesty about how to get here, and bury some of the contradictions above.

For many, these issues remain for pub chat, but never for recognition or resolution.

I can’t help feeling that the cracks beneath the wallpaper show that there were bad foundations in the first place. The whole thing probably needs a good refounding, and until a lot more is called into question, I feel it’s probably unable to evolve into what it needs to become.