A Promising Result

We would like to thank everyone who supported our campaign in the Momentum NCG elections.

Our aim was to put forward an alternative programme: turn to the class struggle as the basis for rebuilding a mass movement capable of organising a socialist solution to the capitalist crises engulfing our world.

We put forward this programme because it is necessary to break with the utopia of persuading the ruling class to permit radical change through parliamentary elections alone.

That our candidates secured a credible vote in a contest monopolised by two factions demonstrates that many others have drawn the same conclusions.

The decisive victory of Forward Momentum – whatever our criticisms of its political limitations – is a welcome indication that the vast majority of Momentum members want a change of direction, to a democratic organisation which renews emphasis on the social movements that are key to securing fundamental change to our movement and to the system as a whole.

With a poor turnout and a declining membership, the incoming NCG faces an uphill struggle to defend the positive gains of the Corbyn movement, and define a new political strategy against an aggressive right-wing leadership.

We believe the key to success lies in putting Momentum’s experience and resources at the heart of forging a united resistance to the coming wave of mass unemployment and a resurgence of the coronavirus.

To mobilise this potential, the NCG needs to rebuild Momentum from the ground up, as a national movement of fighting groups, united by a democratically agreed strategy that articulates the key fronts in the struggle for socialism.

We look forward to working with the new leadership in this urgent struggle to lay the basis for genuinely socialist, internationalist and anti-imperialist workers’ party.

The Labour leadership is preparing its offensive against the left. The NCG should waste no time preparing a resolute response to rally the socialist left inside and outside the party.

The NCG meeting this weekend should outline a timetable for a refoundation conference and assume responsibility for negotiations on the NEC slate, based on the overwhelming mandate Momentum members have given it.

The NCG should also seize the initiative by agreeing a strategy for mobilising members in support of upcoming Black Lives Matter Protests and local struggles like the Tower Hamlets Unison strike.

These are extraordinary times and, while we face enormous challenges, the Black Lives Matter protests show how international action against a global oppressive system can tear around the world in days.

The Labour left must fan the flames of resistance and organise in local Momentum groups and Labour branches around a consistently socialist and democratic strategy.

The Anticapitalist Platform was initiated by Red Flag, a revolutionary socialist organisation that will continue to organise and campaign in the Labour Party, Momentum and the wider working class movement.

Over the coming weeks, we will be on the streets with Black Lives Matter, fighting the rightward shifts on policy and democracy in the party, and standing in solidarity with principled socialists against the witch-hunt of leftists from Labour’s pro-Palestine wing.

If you agree with the proposals we’ve put forward throughout the campaign, please like Red Flag to get involved with our future work.

If there is a particular issue you would like to work together on, please get in touch at info@anticapitalistplatform.org.

We look forward to hearing from you.

La lutte continue! – The struggle goes on!

Forward Momentum: putting members in charge?

By Andy Young

Forward Momentum was launched in early April just days after the Labour Left’s defeat in the leadership and NEC elections, signalling the decisive collapse of the Corbyn project. The Momentum leadership admitted that its tactics of imposing candidates on members backfired and helped split the left.[1] This was the last straw for many Momentum members, adding to the crisis of defeat and disorientation. Out of it came Forward Momentum (FM) as a rebel alliance to overturn the dead hand of the Momentum bureaucracy. Sure enough, its launch spurred the old guard to action, with the rival faction Momentum Renewal (MR) launched a few weeks later.

Both platforms commit to united left slates and want to “unite the socialist left and transform the Party”. Beyond that, they appear to radically diverge. The question is, however, would FM turn Momentum into an organisation capable of organising the Labour left to face the triple crisis of the pandemic, the recession and climate change and would they lead an uncompromising fight against the Starmer leadership and the witch-hunt? 

To show its commitment to ending a politics of “back room deals”, FM’s slate was chosen by an online vote or “primary” of 2000 Momentum members who selected FM’s candidates. The problem with this method is that while it appears innovative and democratic, it also produces a contradictory slate and contradictory politics, with candidates ranging from old, compromised Momentum insiders to newer, more radical lefts.  To square this political circle, FM produced its policy document Plan to take Momentum Forward, but the process for deciding this was anything but transparent. Rather than being debated and voted on by those who participated in the primaries, the FM platform was put together by the candidates and the shadowy FM “board”. This process of compromise between the candidates and higher profile supporters of FM has left them with a contradictory set of policies. 

Left or not so Left?

A word-cloud of Forward Momentum and Momentum Renewal pledges and platforms would likely show that the two slates say a lot of similar, uncontroversial things in similar language: 

  • Momentum is “too London-centric” and funding, organisers and offices need to be redistributed to the regions and nations;
  • There needs to be greater focus on organising in workplaces and communities, providing a “strong voice for the left in the Labour Party” and strengthening the connections that Momentum has with trade unions and social movements; 
  • Momentum is “not sufficiently member-led”, political education, organiser training, member-led campaigns, giving Momentum members a say in key decisions such as campaign priorities and slates for Labour Party elections.[2]

So beneath the usual left phrases, where are the two slates different?  Despite Forward Momentum’s focus on democracy, they have not committed to an annual sovereign conference, and actually voted it down when it was proposed in their policy committee. However, unlike MR, FM does at least have some policies.

There are significant nuances – MR’s community organising to build “labour institutions” versus FM’s promise to unleash the mass membership with national campaigns – and outright differences. Most importantly, FM’s platform proposes an immediate campaign for a just and green response to Covid-19, laying out demands such as “rent freezes, an end to evictions, and no forced redundancies”. It  supports the Green New Deal (GND), and argues for “an internationalist response to COVID-19, centred on migrants’ rights and combating nationalism”, including advocating for “free movement of people, safe passage for refugees, universal access to public services and funds, the closure of detention centres, and the full voting rights for all residents.” These are left-wing policies which merit attention, especially when compared with Momentum Renewal, which has no policy and doesn’t even mention the GND once on their website or Facebook page!

However, their strategy as a whole fails to meet challenge of the crisis we face.  Minimal demands like rent freezes and opposing redundancies are a start, but how about a Momentum that also connects these to strategic socialist goals like nationalising the private health companies, or challenging the right and ability of companies to make redundancies?  And FM fails to advance the forms of organisation necessary to achieve their demands – action committees, rank and file movements in the union – or emphasise anticapitalist, transitional forms of struggle from below such as workers control.

Democracy’s glass ceiling

Forward Momentum repeatedly pushes its democratic credentials. “Refound Momentum and put members in charge.” “Trust the members. Build the movement. #VoteForward24.”[3]

As Keir Milburn, author of Generation Left and a prominent FM activist, says, we need “Momentum as an effective campaigning and election-winning organisation, led by and supportive of its members and local groups. You can’t have one without the other.”[4] True, only members’ democracy can make a left organisation capable of the hard struggle for socialist policies. And there are a few very good demands, such as supporting the “joined-up self-organisation in BAME, LGBTQ+, Women’s and Disability Momentum sections” to analyse and campaign against oppression from a class standpoint.

But overall it is questionable how democratic a Momentum they want, and how willing they are to confront politicians and union leaders in Labour to democratise the party and fight for their radical policies too.

In two meetings of candidates and FM’s board, a number of policies and slogans were adopted but then never made it to the final Plan.[5]   Radical demands that would have strengthened the struggle, such as “campaign for democratic ownership of energy and finance” were voted through but dropped. Presumably this was so the platform didn’t look to radical, or face a backlash from councillors, MPs, union leaders.  But what will these candidates do if they are elected when these powerful forces at the heart of Labour really exert pressure?

FM members have criticised Momentum Renewal candidates for their lack of support for open selection in the past, so it’s great that they voted (50:4) to go further in terms of democracy and “campaign to make the Labour Party conference sovereign with a final say on manifesto policies”, but why was this dropped from the Plan?[7]  Of course, this is another red line for MPs left and right. Even Corbyn continued the approach of Blair and every Labour leader before him of giving the NEC final say over the Manifesto, even if it contradicted policy (e.g. ignoring the 2019 conference vote supporting free movement).

And in terms of Momentum democracy, they haven’t shown much appetite for putting members in charge or trusting them. While a majority voted to support autonomous local groups (again dropped from the Plan) it also voted against holding “an annual Momentum sovereign conference to decide policy and strategy” or even regional conferences to coordinate the campaigns and elect some representatives to the NCG.  There is a glass ceiling on FM’s democracy and trust of the members – is that really so different from Momentum Renewal? 

So on several key questions the rights outweigh the lefts in Forward Momentum, but almost as crucially, without any names by the votes, you can’t tell which are the left candidates and which are the right ones, and which you are voting for.

Fight the Power?

The FM board voted against a proposal to “Give members the data and resources to organise autonomous Momentum networks in trade unions to push for democracy and radical action in unions”. Yet this is exactly what Momentum needs to do if it is to build counterpower to the union officialdom’s inaction and pressure, an even more so to clear them out in a democratic transformation of the unions into rank and file controlled, class struggle organisations.  Momentum Renewal knows what it wants – more power of the unions in Momentum itself – but FM doesn’t really have a policy other than building links and empowering the unions; all very good but for a left organisation pretty standard.

Similarly FM goes miles beyond MR by committing to a “radical programme of municipal socialism for local government, to fight cuts and democratise services and decision-making, working with a strengthened Councillor Network” but in its final platform slims this down and leaves out fighting the cuts and holding them to account, the two central points.  Organising against austerity not for elections should be the priority.  Given Labour council candidates who refuse to administer cuts won’t even be selected, this evasion is implicitly building in compromise in advance without a strong commitment to fighting all cuts and councillor accountability, which Momentum members will need to fight against.

Elsewhere, in a collective response to questions from the Labour Left Alliance, FM stated that it defends the Palestinian Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement from charges of anti-Semitism, commits to ensuring the IHRA definition of anti-Semitism does not restrict free debate on Israel and Palestine, and calls for an overhaul of disciplinary procedures, with expulsion only a last resort in serious cases.  However it does not mention the scores of activists, many Jewish, who have been expelled, or commit to fighting the witch-hunt.

FM candidates are to be congratulated for refusing to sign up to the sectarian, undemocratic “Momentum against the AWL” campaign, unlike the majority of MR candidates. However, the FM board did block the AWL’s Ruth Cashman from standing in the primaries without any reason, demonstrating a lack of commitment to democracy.

What kind of Left do we need?

In many ways FM is clearly bolder and has taken positions to the left of Momentum Renewal. The problem is its political diversity or lack of coherence means it goes silent or doesn’t follow through on key questions like fighting the council cuts or the witch-hunt, presumably under pressure from FM’s right wing.

Members’ democracy that can hold NCG members to account, with a sovereign conference and recallability of officials, is key to having the power to pursue radical demands without leaders buckling under pressure. Clearly the FM candidates who voted against such demands want the “flexibility” to do just that. But a sovereign Labour conference and rank and file democracy in the unions, a sovereign Momentum conference and genuinely accountable NCG, a commitment to fighting the witch-hunt – these are all litmus tests for a fighting labour left that FM has not passed.

The left candidates who were a minority in these votes have not broken ranks with slate unity to voice their dissent. So if a member votes for their local FM candidate, what are they voting for? There is no way of knowing so long as they stick to the collective obfuscation.  If FM win a majority in the election and their right-wing candidates dominate the NCG alongside MR, the effect could well be the same as if MR had won.

For that reason, the Anticapitalist Platform was launched to stand in the huge space to the left of both factions and raise solutions to the key questions confronting the Labour left and determining whether it has a future:

–  A turn to the struggles outside Labour, not just fighting for policy and position inside it while waiting for the next general election.

– Developing anti-capitalist policies for these struggles from council cuts to unemployment and Black Lives Matter, and linking them to the struggle for complete liberation with a socialist programme for Momentum.

– A thoroughgoing internationalism that rejects nationalism and fights for free movement and migrant rights, rejects imperialism and builds solidarity with its victims across the semi-colonial world.

– Rank and file democracy in Momentum centred on a sovereign annual conference.

– Independence from the labour bureaucracy, and a fight for rank and file democracy in Labour and the unions.

Those who don’t have the option of voting Anticapitalist and are attracted to voting for the #Forward24, if for no other reason than to keep out Momentum Renewal, should actively demand answers on these questions from their candidates at the very minimum before casting their ballot.

[1] https://labourlist.org/2020/04/momentum-calls-for-unity-reflection-and-comradely-debate/

[2] https://labourlist.org/2020/04/exclusive-forward-momentum-campaign-launches-to-refound-corbynite-group/

[3] Fourth slogan from Our Plan to Take Momentum Forward; FM strapline for election materials

[4] Milburn https://novaramedia.com/2020/04/23/its-time-for-the-uk-left-to-regather-momentum/

[5] https://labourleft.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/06/Letter-to-LLA-from-FM-candidates.pdf

[7] Later under questioning from the Labour Left Alliance FM stated implied that it would abolish the National Policy Forum and Labour conference “should be absolutely sovereign” but without mentioning the manifesto.

Anticapitalist Platform responses to Momentum Anti-Racism Questions

A group of Momentum activists have posed five questions on anti-racism and racial liberation to NCG candidates via their Twitter account @Mom_Antiracism. Here are their questions and our replies.

As members of the Momentum NCG, you will be deciding who Momentum will endorse for the National Executive Committee elections. How will you ensure the Momentum-endorsed NEC candidates do not have a record of being racist or condoning racism in any form?

To ensure our leaders’ anti-racism is more than just words, we need to refound Momentum with a political strategy that puts Momentum on the front lines of anti-racist struggles, for example, campaigning for an end to stop and search or actively organising and participating in the BLM protests and other anti-racist mobilisations.

NEC candidates should represent the membership and their strategy for the Labour left and therefore must be selected by the membership through a democratic process. Endorsements should be made based on the candidates’ commitment and leadership in fighting for policies decided by the membership.

If we have an organisation which has clearly defined anti-racist politics alongside full members’ democracy, anyone hoping for an endorsement from Momentum members will be held to account on their anti-racist record.

The selection process should include hustings and other opportunities for members to scrutinise candidates’ records and challenge their views.

Do you support a Momentum BAME Section? If no, how come? If yes, how will you ensure the section is given sufficient funding, support, and attention?

Yes; although we believe that anti-racist campaigning is the responsibility of the organisation as a whole, a BAME section can help to develop special areas of work. We further believe that all oppressed groups should have a right to caucus, i.e. to meet privately, discuss and then speak with collective authority. In this way, any institutional prejudice or discrimination, and any issues with the way Momentum handles complaints can be raised by the caucus in a way that amplifies the voices of the oppressed group and holds the leadership accountable.

All members of an oppressed group should be invited to participate in its caucus, so Momentum will need to collect data about which oppressed groups members are part of and give control of that data to liberation caucuses.

All reasonable expenses of the BAME section – including the costs of committee meetings or an annual event for its members – should be funded by Momentum. The right to self-organisation by the BAME section should be written into a new Momentum constitution, which should be debated and voted on at a sovereign members’ policy and constitutional conference to be convened as soon as possible. 

How will you ensure Momentum engages with ethnic minority communities around the country?

We think the best way Momentum can make itself relevant to ethnic minority communities is by showing political leadership on anti-racist issues, drawing them into anti-racist campaigning, and using its organisational infrastructure to connect local campaigns with a national anti-racist movement.

Through new, democratic structures, members could decide Momentum’s strategy with guidance from its caucuses so that we participate in POC-led campaigns and campaign together against racism, for example against the disproportionate impact of the pandemic and coming recession on BAME people, against the local authority cuts which have disproportionately impacted BAME communities, and for a black-led working class inquiry into police murders.

If Momentum is actively engaged in these struggles, then Black people will also be more engaged in Momentum and their interests reflected in Momentum’s priorities. 

Will you support campaigns organised by various anti-racist organisations outside of Labour, such as Black Lives Matter UK, Inquest, and United Families and Friends Campaign? Have you got a track record of supporting and working on (PoC-led) anti-racist campaigns?

Absolutely. The first thing Momentum can do to show its support for these campaigns is to raise the political arguments within Labour demanding justice for police terror, including:

  • End stop and search
  • Automatic prosecution for police murders
  • Disband the IOPC and replace it with independent inquiries including victims’ families

It is shameful that in recent years Momentum has failed so completely to organise any anti-racist campaigning, and has fallen into the trap of supporting increased police numbers in the name of law and order, a betrayal of BAME communities who suffer daily injustices the the hands of the police.

The Black Lives Matter protests in recent weeks show the power of international action against a global oppressive system. They should be a wake-up call for the entire left to raise our horizons beyond internal elections and organise ourselves to act.

We need to mobilise our political and industrial strength in support of the new anti-racist revolts. Momentum should be using its resources to support people organising #BlackLivesMatter protests in their area, providing an infrastructure for the disparate organising groups across the country to discuss a common political strategy, and proposing its own political demands aimed at cohering and sustaining a nation-wide anti-racist movement. We believe Momentum should argue for the right of black and working-class communities to self-defence against police violence.

All of our candidates have participated in the Black Lives Matter protests. Our platform held an online event with a speaker from North Carolina to learn about the uprising in the US, discuss how we can support that movement and the campaigns here in the UK against police violence and for justice for the families of those who have been murdered, against racist Stop and Scan and Stop and Search powers and  for an end to the whitewashing of Britain’s colonial past.

Urte Macikene (standing in the London) first got involved in politics through the anti-cuts movement at university, where she campaigned against Prevent and for the rights of student asylum-seekers, winning a commitment from the university that asylum seekers would not be charged fees and would be provided with additional support funding. In 2019 she was involved in setting up Labour Against Racism and Fascism and coordinating grassroots Labour Party mobilisations against the far right. She also helped lead the fight to shift Labour’s position on Brexit and freedom of movement through Labour for a Socialist Europe and Labour Campaign for Free Movement.

Marcel Golten (standing in London) is a committed international solidarity activist, who has organised within Labour and on university campuses in solidarity with Palestinian and Kashmiri liberation movements and fought to strengthen Labour’s position on these issues. Marcel has also been involved in campaigning against the scrapping of free movement and for extending those rights to people from outside the EU and ending “fortress Europe”.

Andy Young (standing in Yorkshire & the North) has been involved in anti-racist and anti-fascist campaigns since the 1990s. In 1995 he was involved in the campaign for justice for Brian Douglas after he was killed by police in London. As a socialist and trade unionist he has organised and participated in mobilisations to stop the BNP and EDL marching through our towns and cities.

How will you ensure Momentum is an anti-racist organisation and does not tolerate any forms of racism either in rhetoric or policy? Please expand on how you would tackle antisemitism, anti-blackness, and Islamophobia and all forms of racism both within Labour and within policy.

Having a BAME caucus will help to build an anti-racist culture within Momentum.  All oppressed groups should have the right to caucus locally as well as nationally, and therefore have the right to meet and discuss any issues or incidents of oppression in local groups as well as national Momentum and report back to their local group to the NCG. We should also campaign for the establishment of these caucuses in the Labour and support rule changes to that effect.

But we also believe that anti-racism is the responsibility of all members and should be a central part of Momentum’s political programme. Anti-racist campaigning can break down prejudice and provide opportunities for education and discussion in local groups.

As the party of the working class, Labour should represent the whole of the working class and therefore champion the oppressed. Rather than triangulate towards racist ideas, we should challenge them and win the arguments for freedom of movement, shutting down the detention centres, ending “no recourse to public funds”, justice for the Grenfell victims and survivors, demanding black-led working class inquiries into police murders and an inquiry into the disproportionate impact of Covid-19 on BAME people. We need to recognise the racialised impact of Tory austerity and build a movement to resist and reverse local authority cuts.  

Momentum also needs to go beyond the Labour Party’s traditional support for Britain’s imperialist foreign policy and commit to tearing up all forms of racism at their roots, which means adopting a systemic analysis of the institutional racism built into our social system through colonialism and imperialism. This means renewing the fight to turn Labour into an internationalist party by standing with oppressed peoples and minorities fighting against imperialist exploitation, including in Palestine, Kashmir, Syria, Uyghuristan and elsewhere.

Question endorsed by the 1987 Caucus: Forward Momentum and Momentum Renewal’s initial slates had 2 Black candidates each. If either slate won all the seats, the NCG would have less Black members than it currently has (this is alongside the NCG increasing in size). In the last NEC by-election, Momentum endorsed 2 white people to replace a Black woman and an Asian Man. Groups such as the 1987 Caucus have been set up to increase the representation of Black socialists within the Labour party. Will you ensure Momentum and Labour represents and amplify the views of Black socialists, and how?

As we’ve described in previous answers, the growth of local groups, BAME caucuses and anti-racist campaigning would increase the numbers of BAME activists in Momentum as well as create a network to support BAME members to take up leading positions in our movement.This work should be properly resourced and prioritised.

Momentum Renewal: Continuity at the top

The contest for leadership of Momentum is dominated by Momentum Renewal and Forward Momentum, both standing full slates for every region.

The Labour left is deeply disoriented by December’s heavy defeat and the victory of right-winger Keir Starmer in the subsequent leadership. But with capitalism overtaken by a major economic and public health crisis of historic proportions, a mass, militant, socialist left with an orientation to the class struggle is more necessary than ever.

Another aspect of the crisis is the spread of solidarity actions with the Black Lives Matter movement in the USA, raising of the issues of police violence, discrimination and social inequality for people of colour here in Britain.

As the largest left organisation within the Labour Party and, indeed, in Britain, the Momentum contest is significant for the left and working class movement as a whole. Both slates’ platforms have a relatively high proportion of BAME, women and young candidates, which is to be welcomed. 

However, both are overwhelmingly organisational in their proposals, whilst nevertheless avoiding the fight for a genuine members’ democracy. Most striking is the fact that they have provided no policies or strategy for the immediate struggles we face.

The Momentum Renewal (MR) faction, launched by the old guard on 17th May in response to the rapid rise of the challenger Forward Momentum (FM), is backed by a busload of mostly Northern MPs, councillors, and NEC members. It also has the support of Tribune‘s Ronan Burtenshaw and Novara Media‘s Aaron Bastani. Broadly, Momentum Renewal represent the pro-Brexit, labour-bureaucratic side of Corbyn’s coalition.

Carry on Momentum 

Momentum Renewal essentially wants to carry on as before, after applying a fresh coat of paint to Momentum’s discredited, bureaucratic structures. They hope to keep control and move the Momentum office (and more importantly its jobs) up north; two out of the 16 pledges detail how officers will have public email addresses and produce regular reports. This tinkering will not save Momentum: the organisation needs a radical change of direction and root and branch reform of its structures to match its new objectives.

Rather than the “new politics that is clear and bold” promised in the launch statement, there isn’t a single concrete policy about the world outside the Labour Party (and only one there, a belated pledge to back open selection). That doesn’t mean MR has no politics, but they are backward-looking. MR believes “the most important political priority” is “sustaining of the fragile coalition that constituted the Labour Left over the Corbyn era.  Their strategy is to increase the power of the unions in Momentum, and focus on community organising to build local labour “institutions” and win back the “lost heartlands” of the Red Wall towns, in line with the Lexit politics of MR’s backers. 

If you are looking for big picture thinking, you have come to the wrong place, but that is not what its backers in the labour bureaucracy want. They want to stay the course, keep control of the left, and keep hold of or regain the Labour “party structures” being taken by the newly victorious right such as the NEC, with a heavy focus on unity slates.

The Renewal statement warns that, without their inward-looking strategy, “we will be in the wilderness for a generation. We do not have the time to start all over again.” This borrowing of the Labour right’s equation of ‘opposition’ with ‘wilderness’ indicates how little value this faction attaches to mass struggles and building up organised resistance to the Tories and the bosses.

But it is “out in the wilderness” that the huge wave of anger around George Floyd’s police murder in the US exploded. It is “in the wilderness” that the fights against austerity, racism and oppression job losses and climate change will take place. Only in such fights will a renewed labour and trade union movement be forged.

To wage the fight against the pro-capitalist right inside Labour, Momentum needs to turn outwards to these struggles.

A ‘newer, clearer, bolder’ politics?

In early June Momentum Renewal took a tentative step towards politics, in the wake of Forward Momentum’s Way Forward strategy paper. But its “five pledges” are bland and vague on detail – community organising, trade union links, regaining control of party structures. The pledges for “genuine community organising” to build local labour “institutions”– labour clubs, education programmes, mutual support networks (charity) and “building alliances with wider activist groups”, sincere as these intentions may be , sound like a proposal to build a Labour-centred local ecosystem and low-horizon alternative to turning outwards to build mass resistance to the crises we face.

The same goes for their democracy proposals. MR proposes to “give” members and local groups more training, funding, better data and communications, to assuage members’ anger over top-down decision making. It recognises that e-democracy “has rarely been used beyond toothless consultations and rubber-stamping exercises”. However, it is not the use of e-democracy but e-democracy itself that is the problem. Online ballots allow the leadership to rule by plebiscite – setting the question, the timing, and interpreting the results. In response, MR pledges only a “biennial strategic review” to be debated at Momentum’s conference, but with no commitment that this will be a sovereign, decision-making conference that puts members in charge.

Their commitment to democracy is further undermined by the conduct of many of their candidates. Nineteen of them have pledged to not work with other candidates who are members of the Alliance for Workers Liberty (AWL), or those they consider close to the AWL. This is testament to the low political culture of parts of the Labour left the bureaucratic method of Momentum Renewal. The pledge reveals their attitude to Momentum’s members and their democratic right to choose their own representatives.

Finally, the pledge to “strengthen the role of trade unions within Momentum” is a double-edged sword. If it means that Momentum should actively support rank and file workers in struggle through solidarity with strikes and unionisation drives, this is just what we need. But if what it means is greater power for the union bureaucracy inside Momentum it should be rejected. They already have six seats on the NCG. Rather, Momentum should organise its supporters inside the unions with the aim of democratising them – starting with the Labour link structures.

‘Genuine power’

MR’s final pitch as voting opened gives a good summary of the core of their message and political priorities:

  • Break out of the London bubble and build socialist politics rooted in our communities
  • Forge stronger relations with our trade union movement
  • Work to build a single left slate for the NEC elections
  • Strengthen our political education and training

This reorientation to the regions, to the unions and their bureaucratic structures, to low-level “community organising” to build “labour institutions” fails to miss the real radicalism of the situation we face where the decisive struggles are outside Labour. Meanwhile members’ democracy is replaced by top down “education and training”.  

On that note one of MR’s rare rhetorical splurges puts forward a radical goal, actually at odds with this strategy, that “the left membership should not merely be foot soldiers for a party machine but should hold genuine power to make real change” in Labour. Absolutely right, as inadequate as MR’s policies to make that happen are. But surely for that to happen, the members must hold “genuine power” in Momentum first?  They won’t if MR is elected to the top table. 

London bubble vs Red Wall?

MR’s first pledge released on June 5th stated “Momentum’s focus must be the lost Labour heartlands”, while its launch statement attacked Momentum’s London-centredness, stating that its renewal “requires breaking with a stifling, suffocating London bubble and ensuring that what you know is always more important than who you know.”  

The idea that MPs and councillors up North are somehow less immersed “deep in the machinery” of the parliamentary system and municipal politicking takes some imagination, just as the idea that London CLPs and union branches are smooth, cynical networking politicos compared to their honest-John Northern counterparts is plain BS.

In reality, this is a conservative view in both senses. At its heart the Lexiteers’ concern to “get Brexit done” is a concession to the anti-immigrant sentiments which drove the 2016 Referendum vote in the first place, while at the same time it points towards an orientation to the smaller towns hit hard by de-industrialisation and the many older workers that were pensioned off in this process, many of whom turned to the Tories in 2019 (or Ukip in the 2000s). The only progressive way forward for Momentum is to turn towards the working class as a whole but particularly its newer sections  – precarious, often young, often women or BAME or immigrant – and stand for full immigrant rights and free movement, as part of building a class consciousness worthy of the name which can only be internationalist and socialist – in Marx’s words, “the working class has no country”.

As ACP candidate Urte Macikene said on the Momentum website, “the notion that Momentum is somehow ‘too London centric’ is used by some people as dog whistle against our multi-ethnic capital city which has a huge working-class population. I agree that we need to spread resources and delegate powers across the country and Momentum shouldn’t be run by a clique, but that is a political question, not one that can be solved simply by moving the office.”

Blaming London and the other big cities in the Midlands and the North that stayed Labour is sheer demagogy – playing on ignorance and prejudice. Certainly the “red wall” towns have real and burning social problems – youth unemployment, housing, healthcare, schools, social care. Labour needs to fight in the coming years for national plan to regenerate them under the democratic control of their inhabitants. The huge increase in unemployment that will follow the end of furloughing will make this more urgent. In the process Labour needs to be fiercely internationalist, multi-ethnic, and anti racist.

Will Forward Momentum or Momentum Renewal democratise Momentum?

The Anticapitalist Platform is proposing that Momentum holds an annual sovereign conference, where members can take charge of Momentum’s politics, strategy and constitution, ensuring that we decide what Momentum is and does. We think this is an essential baseline for members’ democracy.

Both the Forward Momentum (FM) and Momentum Renewal (MR) NCG factions recognise the importance of democracy and claim to be fighting to rebuild Momentum by “putting members in charge”, but have so far refused to commit to an annual sovereign members’ conference.

Momentum Renewal states: “In between years with NCG elections, there should be a biennial strategic review, with strategy papers circulated to groups and members to feed in, culminating in workshops and debate at Momentum’s conference”.  What is noticeably absent from this formulation is a commitment to any decision-making, suggesting this would simply be an elaborate consultation exercise that leaves the NCG rather than the membership in the driving seat.

Forward Momentum initially supported an annual conference. Their policy document ‘A Way Forward’ sets out proposals for an annual “strategy convention” to allow representatives from local groups to decide Momentum’s political strategy for the coming year, amend the constitution and aims of the group and “hold to account elected NCG members”.

However, in a meeting convened after the FM primaries, the elected candidates were joined by unelected individuals including Forward Momentum’s “Board” members and others personally invited by the Board to finalise FM’s platform. This sham “policy committee” voted two-to-one against including an annual conference in the FM platform.  So despite standing under the banner of an insurgent, grassroots democracy, Forward Momentum used an undemocratic policy-making process to drop their support for cornerstone of democracy in the labour and trade union movement – regular conferences where members make the decisions.

Shaping or deciding?

Both FM and MR emphasise expanded local decision making and initiative, but not national decision making. They obfuscate their lack of commitment to democracy through subtle language, speaking of members “shaping” policy, priorities and direction rather than deciding or voting on these. 

Under a Forward Momentum NCG, members will have a one-off chance to “reboot” Momentum’s structure at a convention in 2021. But in the meantime, the incoming leadership has huge powers of initiative to shape the run-up to the conference and the conference itself.  This will be even more true if the “refounding conference” takes place online, as suggested by the plan put forward on Momentum’s website. We have all seen how online meetings can be easily manipulated and controlled.

After all, the failure of digital democracy is precisely the story of Momentum since Jon Lansman’s 2017 “coup”, which wound up the local groups and annual conference and instead ran Momentum like an email list.  Without an annual conference, delegate-based regional bodies and the recallability of NCG members there would be nothing to stop the incoming NCG continuing with the same undemocratic practices as the old Momentum leadership.

Pop-up or permanent democracy

Forward Momentum has stated that it is a “time limited campaign” that will disband after the NCG election, trying to show its modern, pop-up democracy credentials, and insisting that members at large, not its candidates, will ultimately decide Momentum’s politics. There is nothing noble about standing for political leadership on the promise to disband. It’s hard to imagine leading organisers simply giving up the fight – nor should they, if they believe their own hype – so it only increases the likelihood that Forward Momentum will turn into an unaccountable clique.

Whether FM stays or goes, its elected candidates will certainly try to shape the refounding conference and Momentum after it with their own politics. The problem is that since they have proposed very little actual policy beyond reshaping Momentum’s structures, stuck to joint statements, and didn’t publish the membership or voting record of their “policy committee”, we don’t know what those politics are.

Forward Momentum’s emergence and successful campaign is testament to the membership’s desire for a change in direction. But what is on offer isn’t members democracy but tweaks to the current NCG-dominated, top-down structure.  For an iron-clad commitment to genuine members’ democracy, Momentum members should vote for Anticapitalist Platform candidates where we are standing (London and Yorkshire & the North).

Where Anticapitalist Platform candidates aren’t standing, Momentum members should demand answers from individual candidates on whether they will pledge to campaign for a sovereign members’ conference, and in the case of Forward Momentum, whether they will fight for a commitment to a sovereign conference at the re-founding conference in May 2021.

What kind of democracy does Momentum need?

By Rebecca Armatrading

Why democracy matters

The working class is facing a triple crisis – the pandemic, the recession and climate change. Corbynism is over and we face these crises under a Tory government with a right-wing party leadership. If we want to make Momentum relevant to the struggles that will emerge from these crises,  we need structures that allow members to harness Momentum’s resources to coordinate and build the resistance.  

A sovereign, annual conference allows members to take charge of Momentum’s politics, strategy and constitution, ensuring that we decide what Momentum is and does. It is essential to guarding against paid staff or NCG members watering down members’ proposals or standing aside from struggles in the name of compromise or “electability”, as happened repeatedly in recent years on issues like open selection and free movement.

However, neither Forward Momentum (FM) nor Momentum Renewal (MR) propose a sovereign annual conference. Forward Momentum promise a one-off refounding conference but decided against supporting an annual conference, and both factions propose to increase the use of online ballots.  

Clicktivism vs activism

Whether decisions are made at conferences or through online all-member ballots is not just a matter of convenience but a fundamental question of an organisation’s purpose. 

A conference requires discussion by local groups to decide what proposals they support and election of their delegates on that basis, followed by debate and decisions at the conference. It forces the leadership and the members alike to put their arguments to the test in public debate, and gives people a chance to challenge the claims of their opponents.

The alternative – decision-making by OMOV (One Member One Vote) – sounds democratic because everyone gets a vote, but in reality it disempowers members and makes leaders unaccountable. A leadership presiding over an OMOV system gets to decide what question to ask members, how to interpret the answers and even whether to bother asking members anything at all.

This model is more appealing to those who see Momentum as an auxiliary force for elected officials and paid full-time organisers in the Labour Party or its affiliate organisations. For them, the purpose of membership engagement is winning online ballots (e.g. the NEC election), managing the membership as a support base for policies agreed by the leadership, and mobilising a volunteer army at election time. Full members’ democracy represents an unacceptable risk that the organisation will be taken in a direction embarrassing to the elected officials – whether too radical or otherwise controversial.

When the Momentum coup happened in 2017 this argument was abstract but our experience of Momentum over the past three years has demonstrated the democratic deficit in the current constitution. Apart from NCG elections, only two OMOV ballots have ever been held. The rest of the time, the leadership kept members out of decision making and there was no way for members to hold them to account. 

One of the ballots asked members to endorse the NCG’s recommendations in the Labour leadership ballot through a yes/no vote. Members were not given the choice to endorse Richard Burgon for Deputy Leader, despite the fact that he was clearly to the left of Angela Rayner, the NCG’s recommended choice. Members also weren’t told what would happen if they voted down the NCG’s recommendation.

The other was the result of a petition signed by over 10% of Momentum members which triggered an all-member vote to decide Momentum’s Brexit policy. The NCG delayed the vote until after the party conference so it ran no risk of actually influencing events, ran a convoluted poll with bizarre option choices and leading questions, reported the results in a selective manner and did nothing about the outcome.

Despite promises that OMOV would make Momentum’s decision-making more accessible and lead to a vibrant internal culture, in retrospect we can see that online democracy was designed to suit one purpose – suppressing the membership’s independence while maintaining their support for Corbyn’s leadership under a thin veneer of “movementism”.

What would a democratic Momentum look like?

For Momentum to stay relevant in the years ahead, it needs to become an activist organisation, joining the real life struggles outside the Labour Party. Momentum will only be useful in this context if members can organise themselves through its structures. This necessarily means a more involved type of democracy – where members can debate a full range of political issues, make decisions about what to do, and then use Momentum’s resources to do it. Full-time staff, whose salaries are paid for by the members, must organise around members’ priorities, and there need to be mechanisms for members to replace officials if they won’t comply.

In addition to an annual conference, we need local activist groups that jointly control their membership data with the NCG. These groups should decide their local priorities and what local candidates to back and be given funding to run meetings and coordinate local campaigns. The groups should control regional committees and the annual conference through their delegates, and ultimately the NCG through recallability.

While democracy on its own won’t be enough to revitalise Momentum – for that we’ll need a political programme to make it relevant to the working class – it is the essential basis on which an independent, self-confident socialist movement must be built.

Who else should I vote for?

You want to vote Anticapitalist, but the Platform isn’t standing in your region – or it is and you have extra votes. Who do you vote for?

We need an independent, democratic, socialist Momentum with anti-capitalist and internationalist policies. One turned outwards to build the resistance to austerity, unemployment, racism and climate crisis.

Members not just MPs or union leaders (or an unaccountable NCG) should decide policy and campaigning priorities.

The main slates are Momentum Renewal (the old guard) versus Forward Momentum (a mix of old guards and new lefts), which calls for more democracy. 

But both NCG slates have a) little policy, b) little commitment to democratic structures and c) little about the witch-hunt in Labour.  

For that reason, the Anticapitalist Platform has not endorsed any other candidates. 

If you are thinking of voting for other candidates, we suggest you ask each of them the following questions – you can find their contact info on their candidate pages at https://vote.peoplesmomentum.com/.

1. If you win, will you campaign for a sovereign annual conference so Momentum is controlled by its membership?

2. Will you actively oppose the witchhunt of Palestine solidarity activists campaigning against Israel’s apartheid state?

3. Do you support rank and file democracy in Labour and the unions, including democratising the union vote at Labour conference?

4. What is your strategy for placing Momentum at the heart of the struggles around the transition out of lockdown and the coming economic crisis?

We think candidates’ answers to these questions will reveal their attitude to the most fundamental issues facing Momentum.

NCG Elections: Databases and the Dialectic

By Tim Nailsea

Members of Momentum may have noticed in recent months a worrying trend in communications from the Momentum national office.

•             Many people have reported receiving repeated emails asking them to check whether they are still a member and that their subs are up to date.

•             Some have also reported being asked to vote for a second time in the National Coordinating Group election after submitting their ballots, as their original vote was not recorded.

•             Still others report receiving ballots despite having cancelled their membership a long time ago. 

Throughout its five-year existence, there has been a rather vague notion of membership of Momentum, with many receiving emails and updates despite having left. Much of this may undoubtedly be put down to the usual organisational stresses often seen on the left, where understaffing or other problems may lead to mistakes being made. Given the large number of tasks expected of the left, it is inevitable in an active organisation that administrative issues might arise.

However, this particular set of problems, which seem to be focused on accurate records of membership, have their roots in a more fundamental political issue, that of what the organisation is for, and how it operates as a result.

Since the undemocratic coup in 2017, Momentum has, consciously on the part of Jon Lansman and the rest of the leadership (including, it must be said, high profile members and supporters of both the Momentum Renewal and Forward Momentum slates), moved away from a model of organisation which encouraged active members’ participation and democratic structures, to a top-down approach, where decisions are made by the leaders and presented to the membership as a fait accompli.

Democratic local branches were dissolved, and policy conferences were discarded, and with them any means of holding the leadership accountable were lost. That they were replaced with top-down plebiscites reflected the changed purpose of the organisation. Members have ceased to have any real role in shaping policy or initiatives and have largely been viewed as a “standing army” expected to turn up to canvassing, leafleting and other such events. The value of Momentum has largely been measured in its ability to deliver such “boots on the ground”.

Viewed in these terms, the membership list becomes more and more a glorified contact sheet used to deliver pre-arranged advertisements for activity; rather than a list of people expected to actively engage in and participate in the life of the organisation. The former has much less need of attention and updating, as it only really functions as a list of targets to email blast or mass text.

This approach to membership is typical of reformist organisations. When, like with Momentum, the primary aim is to implement socialism through Parliament, and the vehicle to do this is the Labour Party, then the central role is seen as being played by representatives – MPs, councillors, trade union leaders and other Labour grandees. The membership’s role in this is to provide support for them – canvass during elections, turn up to rallies to cheer their speeches and occasionally to march in official demonstrations. Otherwise their role is largely passive. This is because the reformist model of change rests upon party leaders and representatives working on behalf of the working class, rather than the working class bringing about its own liberation.

Some would argue, and some indeed have in the course of the current NCG election, that internal democracy is a distraction, an unnecessary indulgence when Momentum has so many important practical tasks to concern itself with. They argue that we should not argue about abstract organisational forms, so long as the desired outcome is achieved. The problem with this argument is that the method of organisation and the form that it takes has a direct relationship with the politics of any organisation. Marxists do not make a fetish of one particular organisational form in any and all circumstances. The way that we organise should be decided based upon the conditions we operate under and what it is that we aim to achieve.

Nevertheless, the particular form of organisation appropriate to a given set of conditions is itself determined by adherence to a set of principles, which are fundamental to building a socialist movement capable of making ‘the liberation of the working class, the act of the working class itself’.

This means: policy to be decided by representatives of members at a national conference wherever possible, an overall strategy decided by the members, which a leadership is elected to conduct, and the accountability and recallability of representatives at all levels of the organisation. This last, in Tony Benn’s blunt formula – ‘how do we get rid of you’ is a question that those running Momentum have neither asked nor answered.

How we organise is not incidental, it is critical in a project to change the world. Marxists insist that to bring about a socialist society, we need to harness the truly creative power of the working class. It is only through their mobilisation that we will be able to achieve the overturning of capitalism and the establishment of socialism.

It is the active participation of workers in the day-to-day struggle against capitalism that unleashes this creative energy. Marxists therefore insist that all workers’ organisations, unions and political parties, should have the maximum level of democracy and participation possible. It is through this engagement in their organisations that workers can take ownership of them and achieve their own emancipation, by being able to shape their own lives and conditions – something which capitalism denies them.

This is why an insistence on democracy at every level of the movement is not simply a distraction or an indulgence, but should be an absolute principle for anyone who wishes to build a movement aimed at bringing an end to capitalism.

The shoddy administrative practices and lack of democratic structures in Momentum are not just unfortunate phenomena, they are part of a whole manner of doing politics that should be discarded.

Video: Vote for Andy Young today

How we resist the impending crisis – Anticapitalist Platform

Andy Young, our Momentum NCG candidate for Yorkshire, The North, Scotland, Cumbria & International shares his experience of the 2010 wave of anti-austerity movements, and how we learn from these defeats to build mass resistance against the coming crisis.Read Andy’s full candidate statement here: https://vote.peoplesmomentum.com/nominate/status/fwbvg4

Posted by Anticapitalist Platform on Friday, June 19, 2020

Hi, I’m Andy, I’m running for the Momentum NCG as part of the anticapitalist platform. Why? Because after the fall of Jeremy Corbyn, the Labour left is at a crossroads.

We face three huge crises – the pandemic itself, the climate crisis and now the biggest economic depression in a century. 

Business and the government have put profit over our health and safety with inadequate PPE, testing and tracing and now they are preparing to make the working class pay the price of this crisis.

As the largest left organisation in Britain, Momentum has a key role to play in opposing this. 

However, that requires a radical change in direction, genuine members democracy, a rank and file approach and anti-capitalist, socialist policies.

We should focus our efforts on organising the unorganised, millions have lost their jobs and we can unionise the precarious workers who have built up over the last ten years.

We can build solidarity with strikes over cuts and safety at work, we can support workers’ control in the workplace, rank and file democracy in the trade unions. Nobody should go back to work unless it is safe!

We can kickstart and unite mass resistance against the crisis by building democratic councils of action. 

These open and flexible forms of organisation can connect all the campaigns, so we can fight every eviction, every cut, every job loss.

That can draw in delegates from trade union branches and labour branches, from workplaces and housing estates. Take action and draw up a no cuts budget demanding that the labour councils act on it.

But in an age of fundamental crisis of the system we need to go further and link immediate priorities to an anticapitalist programme.

Tax the millionaires to provide a programme of public works to build the things we need like council housing and hospitals, giving jobs to the millions who’ve lost them. 

Nationalise the health, transport and energy sectors and that will help resolve the health and climate crisis. Don’t compensate the millionaires for them, place them under workers and consumers control as steps towards democratic planning.

We will need to build mass resistance to achieve this, we’ll also need to fight to make Labour and the unions support it.

Why? The sad truth is the leaders will oppose this.  Many of us in the anti-austerity movement saw first hand the betrayal of the right leaders but then inaction of the left leaders. They abandoned the struggle against NHS privatisation and abandoned the pension strike. The result was austerity which the working class, but mostly BAME and young people and women paid the price for.

Now Keir Starmer wants to make renters pay arrears which is a return to the era of Miliband and austerity-lite.

The struggle to build mass resistance and support for it in Labour and the unions is part of the struggle for rank and file democracy in Labour and the unions.

Momentum can’t lead that struggle unless it itself has rank and file democracy too.

To sum up, the bill for the corona crisis will be much bigger than 2008, and we have to prepare for an all-out struggle against historic levels of austerity. The fact is, for millions it’s already here.

Now these are huge challenges, as always, but the fact is alienation against the political and economic status quo is also huge. As is the anger against decades of the rich getting richer and the poor getting poorer.

If Momentum develops democratic structures and anti-capitalist policies, we can play a key role in building this necessary resistance, and with it rebuild the working class movement, linking both to the struggle for total liberation and socialism. Nothing less should be our goal.

Read Andy’s full candidate statement here: https://vote.peoplesmomentum.com/nominate/status/fwbvg4

A Statement on the Conduct of the NCG Election

As socialists we stand for maximum democracy and debate within our movement in order to clarify political differences and put competing ideas and strategies to the test of experience.

Throughout the Momentum NCG election, supporters of, and those who have worked with, the AWL group, have been subjected to a campaign of abuse and guilt by association which violates all democratic norms of the labour movement.

This includes vetting candidates for the supposedly ‘open primaries’ held by Forward Momentum, barring candidates from participating in ‘hustings’, and an anonymous Twitter campaign demanding “NCG candidates disavow [the AWL]”. This is a transparent attempt to bully candidates into repudiating the democratic choice of members if supporters of ‘Momentum Internationalists’ are elected.

As supporters of Red Flag we make no secret of our irreconcilable opposition to the politics of the AWL, most significantly in the context of the Labour Party, their equation of anti-Zionism with antisemitism. This leads them to brand principled opponents of Zionism as ‘political’ or ‘leftwing’ ‘antisemites’, which serves as a spurious ‘left’ cover for the Labour establishment’s witch-hunt.

Needless to say, this charge of antisemitism is one we reject with contempt. We understand that many defenders of Palestinian rights, including many courageous Jewish people, equally reject the AWL’s position on this issue, being themselves the target of right wing Zionist abuse. Nevertheless we are sure they will reject witch hunting and demagogy in reverse. Principles always pay in the long run.

The truth is, what their opponents, or at least the instigators of the campaign, really object to is the AWL’s consistent record of support for rank and file democracy in the trade unions, advocacy of the class struggle, and solidarity with democratic revolutions in the semi-colonial world. It is these remnants of the AWL’s original allegiance to Trotskyism that arouses the antipathy of this constellation of cliques, whose only common ground is their pathological hostility to the ideas of revolutionary Marxism.

The fact that this campaign has been allowed to flourish in the midst of Momentum’s election is an indictment of the democratic deficit at the heart of the organisation, and testament to the debased political culture prevailing in a disoriented and demoralised labour movement.

This witch-hunt is a deliberate distraction intended to divert attention from the poverty of the main factions’ platforms, which have nothing credible to offer on the key issues facing our movement: learning the lessons of the Corbyn movement and adjusting our strategy to meet the challenge of coronavirus, the economic crisis, and the emergence of a powerful anti-racist street movement.

All socialists and democrats should oppose demands to anathematise candidates because they belong to a different political tradition. It is wrong in principle, and it actually reveals the real attitude of such people to Momentum’s members and their democratic right to choose their own representatives.

Momentum, the Forward Momentum and Momentum Renewal slates, and MPs like John McDonnell, Richard Burgon, John Trickett, and others who have endorsed prominent candidates, should publicly condemn this undemocratic behaviour.

Those who persist in mounting intimidation campaigns against political opponents are aiding the right wing party leadership who recognise these pathfinders for the anti-socialist purge as temporary allies on their road to rescuing Labour for the ruling class.