After a period of months following its initial formation, Momentum - the pro-Corbyn movement inside and around the Labour Party - has taken the significant step of becoming a membership based organisation. By taking steps to tighten up the organisation of Momentum, the position of the Left within the Labour Party will be strengthened. This, in turn, will serve to solidify Corbyn’s position against the right wing of the Labour Party who are set on removing him.
It is clear that, although he remains isolated at the level of the Parliamentary Labour Party (PLP), Corbyn has huge support amongst wide layers of the working class and youth, both in and outside the party.
Whilst they are on the retreat, the Blairite clique who are set on sabotaging Corbyn’s leadership have not yet been routed. For this to occur, Corbyn must go on the offensive, not just against the Blairite Fifth Column in the PLP, but against the whole rotten capitalist system that they represent.
Momentum gathers pace
From its beginnings last autumn as an email list and Facebook page, Momentum now has over 120 groups nationally, and an estimated 90-100,000 supporters. On Sunday 5th June, Momentum's young members and student supporters will be gathering at a founding conference in Manchester to discuss the role that students and youth can play in the Corbyn movement. It is clear, therefore, that Momentum is moving forward and taking positive steps to build a viable organisation in defence of Labour's left-wing leader and the anti-austerity programme he stands for.
Initially launched around three broad principles, its aims have been clarified with the publication of a ten-point programme. These include: the re-nationalisation of the railways, the energy sector, and public services; a “big house-building programme and rent controls”; and ending “discrimination, advantage and privilege based on class”.
The adoption of such political programmatic points represents a positive step forward in clarifying what Momentum stands for. The task now is for Momentum to incorporate these points into a bold socialist programme, and to fight for such demands throughout the Labour movement.
Following a decision taken at its first national committee meeting of Momentum in February, membership is open to anyone that supports “the aims and values of the Labour Party” and is not “a supporter of any organisation opposed to it”. Momentum describes its own objectives as including:
“to strengthen the Labour Party by increasing participation and engagement at local, regional and national levels. Furthermore, Momentum is committed to supporting the Labour Party winning elections and entering government. It seeks to use its base in the Labour Party and Labour movement to reach out to the 99% of people who are not currently in any political party, spread Labour values and increase Labour Party membership.”
Establishment losing control
Why then such hostility from the bulk of Labour MPs towards Momentum? Surely all Labour MPs should support such objectives such as the strengthening of the party and the winning of elections? The problem for MPs such as Tristram Hunt and Hilary Benn is that the “Labour values” as championed by Corbyn and Momentum - that is, values of “putting people and planet before profit and corporate interests” - are not the same values as theirs, the values of careerism and capitalism.
For years, a whole host of right-wing Labour MPs have seen the party as nothing but a vehicle for their own careers. Having abandoned any pretence towards socialism, consciously or not, many of them act as faithful representatives for the ruling class. The most striking example of this was the vote of the 66 Labour MPs who supported the Tories’ call to bomb Syria. Cameron said bomb, and they “yes - from how high?”
With Corbyn leading the Labour Party, the Establishment are terrified that they will lose control of the party. The ruling class have always relied on the Labour Party as a “Second XI” that can be called in to do their bidding in times when the Tories are discredited and weakened. With the Tories now tearing themselves apart over Europe, not to mention the increasing anger against them due to years of austerity and scandals, the prospect of a Labour victory is looking increasingly likely. With a massive hole in the public finances, the capitalists will have to look to the Labour Party to carry out their austerity programme – that is, to make the working class pay for the crisis of the rich.
Hence why a significant layer of Labour MPs are desperate to hold onto control of the party. They have worked for decades to make the party a safe pair of hands for big business. They do not want to see all this hard work go to waste.
Two parties in one
In reality, then, there are two parties within the Labour Party: that of the right wing MPs and bureaucrats, who follow a Tory-lite position; and that of Corbyn and his supporters (including the bulk of the membership), who are against austerity and lean towards socialist ideas. Ultimately these trends are incompatible; one must win out over the other.
Thus even before Corbyn’s victory, MPs were plotting on how to remove him. Realising that Corbyn’s support was too great for an immediate coup, such plans were put on the back burner. The right wing have been biding their time since, in order to strike at the most damaging moment. No secret is made of this; as a “Labour source” told Business Insider: “The PLP needs to realise that if doesn't [move] it's over for good”. “We're screwed if it [a coup] doesn't happen”.
The formation of Momentum is therefore an important safeguard for Corbyn against such a possibility. Jon Lansman, one of Momentum’s architects and key figure in Corbyn’s leadership campaign team, stated that in the event of a challenge to Corbyn: “we absolutely have the machinery to run another leadership campaign if we have to and we are absolutely equipped to do that. And we will if necessary and I am confident we will win it.”
With the move from a loose network to a tighter membership organisation, Momentum is therefore strengthening Corbyn’s position within the party. Although the right wing are organised in groups such as “Labour First” and the Blairite “Progress”, none of these groups can come close to matching the potential support base of Momentum, as demonstrated by Corbyn’s landslide victory in last year’s leadership contest. With Momentum continuing to grow in size, the Blairites are concerned that they must strike sooner rather than later.
Momentum supporters are therefore correctly mobilising to fight the upcoming elections in May, conscious that any loses for Labour will be seized on by the right wing as an excuse to oust Corbyn. But campaigning alone is not enough.
Momentum should make clear that any MPs who are out to sabotage Corbyn will face calls for de-selection and be held subject to the democratic accountability of the membership. This is a basic democratic demand.
So far, however, the leadership of Momentum, by publicly ruling out any possibility of de-selections, is giving carte blanche to the Blairite saboteurs to behave as they please. If Momentum is serious about defending Corbyn from a right wing coup, it must explicitly come out in favour of the mandatory reselection of MPs and campaign for Corbyn’s supporters to replace those who fail to represent the views and values of the Labour rank-and-file.
This is what the careerists are most afraid of: that Momentum should pose a threat to their comfortable jobs. The leaking of a full list of Labour MPs, each classified according to whether they are supportive, neutral, or hostile towards Corbyn, has no doubt rattled the 85 within the “core group negative” and “hostile” categories. The battle lines between the two camps are being clearly drawn.
Socialist policies needed
Momentum has already played an effective role in helping to organise Corbyn supporters against Labour MPs who were planning on voting to bomb Syria. Over 30,000 supporters made use of an online tool set up by Momentum to lobby their MPs. In the end, 66 MPs voted for the war – far fewer than expected – a result of the mass pressure from below. This is an indication of the potential role that Momentum could play, which will surely be needed in future battles over Trident and much more.
In order to really take off as a grassroots movement, Momentum must now focus on organising democratically and, most importantly, around a bold political programme. Although Momentum meetings vary across the country, many have been bureaucratically organised, with very little opportunity for political discussion. This will deter the best youth and activists, and can lead to demoralisation and indifference towards Momentum.
Ultimately, if Corbyn is to win against those wishing to remove him, he must go on the offensive. Not simply against the Blairites or the Tories, but against the whole crisis-ridden capitalist system.
Momentum has the potential to play a key role in this, in helping the working class to reinstate Clause IV and reclaim the Labour Party to a socialist programme. Momentum’s ten point programme is a step in the right direction, but ultimately none of the aims can be realised without taking power out of the hands of the capitalists and abolishing the anarchy of the market.
The system is broken
Corbyn has shown himself to be strongest when he has raised political points in class terms. His attacks against Cameron over recent tax-dodging scandals are an example of this. The Labour leader stated in Parliament that, “it is unacceptable that while councils’ budgets are cut and the services on which people rely are being cut back, the super-rich elite dodge their taxes and flout the rules”.
Corbyn must take these attacks to their conclusion: that the wealth exists in society to do away with austerity and fully-fund services, education, and housing, but that the “super rich elite”, i.e. the capitalists, will never part with this wealth without a struggle.
What the Panama Papers show is that such offshore scheming by the wealthy is part and parcel of a system that cares only for profit. No tinkering of the tax code can change this.
We need to expropriate the wealth of these billionaires by taking the big monopolies into public ownership, under democratic workers control. Such is the anger and resentment against the ruling class that if Corbyn fought on such a bold programme, his support would be enormous. The momentum behind such a movement would be unstoppable.