An Interview with Momentum Organisers

Ahead of the ballots opening in Momentum's 2022 NCG elections, New Socialist interviewed both slates. Here, Momentum Organisers respond to our questions.

37 min read


Today, as the ballot for Momentum’s National Co-ordinating Group election opens, we are very happy to be publishing our interviews with the two main slates. The ballot closes on July 6th, so if you’re not a member of Momentum and feel inspired by the campaign, there’s still time to join and vote. Below, you’ll find our interview with Momentum Organisers; our interview with Your Momentum is available here.

In our view, the campaign has so far been characterised by a degree of bitterness, and has relied on endorsements and what could loosely be termed ‘vibes’, rather than political arguments. We hope that these interviews will serve as a counter to that. We have tried not only to allow space for detailed arguments and plans to be presented, but also to push candidates on those elements of their proposals and assessments of the situation which have thus far gone unchallenged.

Both interviews follow the same pattern. They are divided into two parts. The first part features general questions that are broadly applicable; these questions were put to both slates. In the second part, we have tried to probe particular aspects of both the proposals and record of the two slates. While these questions are necessarily more specific, being tailored to each slate, they do refer to the same themes and challenges. By doing things this way, we hope to give a rounded sense of each slate’s proposed approach to the task ahead.

Despite the attrition of the last two and a half years, Momentum remains, as Momentum Organisers argue, “the largest socialist organisation in Britain,” and “the premier organisation of the Labour left”. We hope that comrades find the interviews useful in deciding whether and how to vote.

1. General questions.

NSWhat’s the point of Momentum? Why should socialists get involved in the NCG election?

MOMomentum is the largest socialist organisation in Britain. Founded to support Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership of the Labour Party, it has since that time developed into the premier organisation of the Labour Left, an orientation that was democratically confirmed in the recent Refounding Momentum ballot.

As democratic socialists, we believe that our goals can only be realised via state power, and therefore, under the First Past the Post electoral system, through a democratic, transformed Labour Party. A plethora of other organisational forms are part of this mission - from trade unions to renters unions to anti-racism movements to anti-raids groups. But fundamentally, if you believe that we need to harness the power of the state in order to extend public ownership across the economy, take on fossil capital, and transform our crisis-ridden society before it’s too late - then Labour remains the path, and Momentum the vehicle.

Socialists should care about this election because Momentum has lost its way - it’s on the path to permanent defeat. If the worst does happen, it will make a sick and warped Britain even worse. There will be next to no Left voice in the public sphere - no organised political force opposing the war on migrants, the expansion of police powers, the gluttony for the few and the poverty for the many. This will result in a vicious circle, as the last vestiges of opposition to this illiberal democracy waste away.

Our campaign was born out of conversations between comrades following Starmer’s threat to the SCG on NATO. After more than a year of depressing defeats in the Party – above all Jeremy’s suspension – a weakened Labour Left was facing escalating Establishment attacks, from proscriptions to the silencing of Young Labour. But nothing was happening – the left was passive. Momentum, the vehicle of the grassroots, was passive.

Our politics and vision was always based on the idea that the post-2019 left had not got organised – and needed to do so to survive. Despite the Starmer onslaught, Momentum has not faced the fight. What Momentum’s NCG lack – and their continuity campaign even more so – is a clear vision for what Momentum’s role and mission should be. Momentum is taken to be synonymous with the entire left, without any sense of its role in an ecology of different organisations, working to a common purpose but each with their own particular role and focus. We’re told this is the way to build power - but without any plan or clear direction, Momentum is sliding towards irrelevance and total defeat at the hands of a ruthless Labour Right.

It’s time for change - we need to re-energise our movement, before it withers in the vine.

NS(If your answer to Q1 involves having effects on and through the Labour Party:) What is the point of the Labour Party, and why should socialists care about it?

MOAsk not what the point of the Labour Party is, but what the point of the Labour Party could be! We all know that Labour has long been complicit in British imperialism, that it has often failed to stand with workers, that Jeremy Corbyn’s principled, internationalist socialism was not the norm.

Those are the conditions we exist in. The reality (however unfortunate) is that Labour remains the vehicle available - however hostile - to socialists in Britain to pursue our project. Under first past the post, an alternative to the Left is completely unviable, as the latest failed splits have demonstrated. What’s more, its historic links to the trade union movement bolster the potential for a socialist Labour Party. This connection with organised workers is hardwired into the party - if the socialist project is dependent on an organised working-class and a political party serving its goals, then all roads run through Labour. It’s not easy - they don’t call it a struggle for nothing. But if the Left is forced out of the Party - as Starmer and Akehurst have made it clear they intend - then a bleak situation will get bleaker still.

The socialist project now must involve a focus on defending and strengthening our position within Labour: to prevent permanent defeat, yes, but also to win power bases from which to build in future - locally and institutionally. As we stabilise from the rapid downward trajectory Momentum has been on, we can also look for strategic organising which, like our proposed Shop Stewards’ Network builds up both working-class organisation, and the prospects for the Left in Labour, through a radicalised trade union movement shifting to the Left.

There is hope for the future: Zarah Sultana, Jess Barnard, Bell Ribeiro-Addy, Apsana Begum. In Zarah’s words: “as a Liverpool fan, our anthem is ‘at the end of the storm, there’s a golden sky.’ And that’s very much politics as well. You have to go through the storm.” Momentum is at risk of getting lost in the storm - we want to get organised to get out of this situation.

As we fight through, there is still much that can be achieved in the interim. With focused organising, we can build local power bases from which to act. Whether it’s landlord licensing in Oxford, or pay rises for carers in Salford, socialists in power can shift power and wealth into the hands of the working class. And while that requires an organised working-class outside the structures of the state, it also needs allies within it - this is the role that Momentum, acting through Labour, can play.

NSFeminist concerns seem to have been relatively marginalised from the everyday world of the contemporary left—but feminist struggles, and feminist analyses of the organising and gendered functioning of institutions, surely remain crucial. What are your feminist commitments, and what will you do to put them into practice?

MOFeminism is a vital lens for understanding the structures, inequality and oppression of modern society. Clearly, the horrifying overturning of Roe v Wade only brings this into sharper relief.

First, our feminist commitments: we are socialist, anti-racist feminists. We believe in women’s and indeed all people’s right to abortion on demand. Control of one’s own body is a first principle for freedom and dignity. We understand the world as structured fundamentally through gender oppression, both as its own force and as a key dynamic within modern capitalism, in terms of social reproduction, gendered stratification of labour and more. This was starkly exposed by the huge, massively disproportionate impact of austerity on working-class women, and the marginalised women who bore the brunt of the closure of domestic violence centres.

We are heartened by the feminist potential shown by the Women’s Strike, by the organising of migrant cleaners through unions such as the IWGB and UVW, and by the resurgence of new black radical feminist traditions.

We stand for trans rights, against the swell of hate being whipped up by the British media, aided and abetted by both mainstream parties.

We recognise, too, the sexism that all too often pervades the left, in Britain and beyond. This is visible in unaccountable abuse, predatory behaviours and the relegation of feminist concerns including in thecomposition of our ‘intellectual’ layers – it is unfortunate, for example, that all of Momentum’s The Educator issues so far have been written by men.

Nonetheless, our feminism is anti-carceral, recognising that the answer to male violence ultimately lies in social transformation, and that the urgent priority is the proper funding of social services, women’s refuges and domestic violence services slashed by the Tories throughout the 2010s.

There is much we can learn from international feminist movements, whether that’s the formidable (and trans-inclusive) campaign for abortion rights in Ireland through to Latin American feminist movements who have made feminism a key battle on the streets.

Our Momentum Organisers are rightly majority-women, as we seek to overcome the domination of positions of power on the left by men. Our slate contains a trans woman organiser who has fought for LGBT+ housing, and a Muslim woman who has led the struggle against the Islamophobic PREVENT agenda, and for the voice of muslims to be respected within Labour, through the founding of the Labour Muslim Network. This is the kind of intersectional feminism the left must embrace.

When it comes to enacting these commitments, there is much to be done: as many have pointed out, abortion rights across the UK, but especially in the north of Ireland, are insufficient. Nationally, Momentum could and should support calls for their expansion – locally, Momentum groups could mobilise to Sister Support campaigns for buffer zones around abortion clinics.

As we pursue a socialist Green New Deal, care work – including a National Care Service – must play a central role in our demands, rather than solely industrial demands.

Within our own movement, we need not only to empower liberation groups, but also to explore and establish processes for everyone’s organising – feminism shouldn’t be siloed away, it should be a common cause.

NSA constant issue on the left is the indulgence of known bullies and abusers—often, but not always men—because they are friends, political allies, powerful people, and/or people who draw in audiences for events. Not only does this harm individuals, it also harms the movement. How do you think Momentum can challenge this dynamic?

MOWe know that all too many comrades are pushed out of the movement because of a failure to act on instances of abuse or misconduct. As you point out, this isn’t only harmful to those who are forced to leave, it damages our movement too. This is particularly a problem when ranks are closed around powerful figures.
We see Momentum’s role in addressing this problem as having two strands. Firstly, getting our own house in order: reviewing our complaints policies and procedures, making sure that they provide adequate support for victim-survivors and following best practice (drawing, for example, on the work of organisations like the 1752 Group who have worked on fighting sexual misconduct in higher education – a sector with similar power differentials to that found within the organised left).

It can be, in practice, quite difficult for an organisation to act without the presence of an official complaint. This does not make things any easier for those who have suffered abuse or harassment. As part of our review, we would consider the many barriers to reporting that those affected by abuse might be confronted with and tailor support and review policies to reduce these as far as we can.

We would support local groups to review their own policies and procedures, developing best practice.

The second strand of our approach would be more public facing with the intention of making this an issue that everyone feels they are themselves responsible for challenging. This would look like political education, public discussion, and supporting (both publicly and behind the scenes) those who are speaking out – such as the MeToo GMB campaign.On this issue, as with so many others, silence is a disciplining force. But we can speak, together, by naming the problem, getting our own house in order, and supporting those who bravely speak out.

NSWhat will you do to redistribute power and resources across the movement?

MOMomentum is most able to support workers, unions and social movements when we have real footholds in Labour and hold public office. As we have written and I have talked about elsewhere, supporting the wider movement is vital – that means effective coordination, coalitions and solidarity, not trying to replicate work that is already being done, as the NCG’s Evictions Resistance campaign did. When we hold councillor positions – or better still, councils – we can use those positions to support movement struggles, like the Greater London Council did to great effect in the 1980s. Socialists in power can help nurture movement struggle and those movements can then exert pressure and demands on state institutions like what Preston City Council did.

I know first-hand how this dynamic can help movements flourish, a lesson I want to roll out nationwide. Having a strong grouping of Labour Left councillors in Oxford has enabled us to drive forward a successful Living Wage campaign, call out fire and rehire across the city, support ACORN’s landlord licensing campaign and yes to DSS campaign and establish a new Migrants Champion position, filled by another Momentum comrade. Our organisers have experienced the same dynamic nationwide, whether that’s supporting care workers in Greater Manchester to win a pay rise working with UNISON, or putting a halt to the the biggest sell-off of public housing assets in British history, down in Haringey. In every instance, we first held power in local government, in turn reliant on strong local bases, a key focus for us as a campaign. This leverage through holding public office is the biggest thing we have to offer – but we first need to win it.

If Momentum continues down its current path of defeat, our organisation will only continue to grow smaller and smaller, and our resources – both in terms of staff and finances – to help others will decline, perhaps irreversibly.

(This question was answered by Councillor Paula Dunne: Oxfordshire Momentum, Oxford Labour, ACORN; running in South East).

NSThis has already been quite a bitter campaign. As this time the NCG is being elected by STV, it is unlikely either slate will get an overwhelming majority. How will you make sure to work effectively with members of the opposing slate?

MOThere are some excellent comrades running on the Your Momentum slate – indeed, we have endorsed their candidate, Coll McCail, in Scotland precisely because we believe Coll is the kind of socialist, internationalist and winning organiser that belongs on Momentum’s NCG. We look forward to working with comrades from across the socialist aisle when all’s said and done, and welcome the introduction of STV to this end.

Elections necessarily focus on dividing lines, and it’s important to be open about political differences. But we firmly see our YM opponents as comrades in the fight for socialism. Our campaign has come out of the belief that Momentum needs to change to survive, let alone thrive, and we will fight for every vote and the organising majority Momentum needs. Momentum needs clear direction if it is to rebuild. But we can only do that if we stay united after the 6th July – our position is too precarious for pettiness. Ideologically and pragmatically, we must work together. We must then get on with the work of fighting our real enemies – god knows we’ve got enough of them, in the Party, the Tories, the entire ruling class.

Indeed, our campaign’s fundamental mission is about focusing Momentum on its core work, and not continuing to spread itself too thin. While there have been serious and costly mistakes – such as the Eviction Resistance campaign and the failure to prioritise delegate selections ahead of Conference 2021 – there have also been good achievements, such as the Community Wealth Building Toolkit. Numerous projects enjoy cross-slate support, such as the Leo Panitch Programme. We wouldn’t abandon them but simply ensure they are aligned with our strategic objectives.

Moreover, we would not change the fundamental structures of the organisation – Refounding dragged on long enough. That means no running battles over structures; instead, we can get on with organising in the party, communities, picket lines.

2. Questions specific to Momentum Organisers.

NSWhat do you think the current Momentum NCG has done well?

MOWe strongly support the leadership and deputy leadership endorsement rule change ; the process enacted in 2020 was both politically misguided and, organisationally, deeply damaging. As we lay out above, our critique of Refounding is centred on the opaque and time-consuming process, not its reforming spirit.

Likewise, the Community Wealth Building Toolkit published this year by Momentum was a practical example of the organising focus we need. It distils a key focus for our campaign - which is to learn from socialist success stories on the ground and roll them out nationwide. Thus, just as Matt Brown offered lessons from Preston on community wealth building, we recently held an event in Worthing, where a Corbynite-powered activist base just helped Labour win the council there.

NSYour pitch makes considerable mention of the importance of compromise and co-operation with the Centre Left Grassroots alliance in the formation of slates for internal elections as unity on the left is crucial for fighting internal battles in the Labour Party. Given that a major area of disagreement over slate formation within the CLGA has been around transphobia, does this mean that you are prepared to compromise on trans liberation? We note too that you chose to publish your launch article in the notoriously transphobic Morning Star1. Is this indicative of the kinds of compromises you are willing to strike?

MOOn the Morning Star, this is incorrect. The launch article for our campaign was in LabourList; it was Your Momentum who chose to launch in the Morning Star. Yes, we did later write an article for the Morning Star, focused on collaboration with trade unions and social movements.

Like many comrades, we were deeply offended by the transphobic cartoon in the Morning Star, and their subsequent apology was necessary. Similarly, we wholeheartedly reject the positions taken in the examples you cite. Our slate is fully committed to trans rights and trans liberation. Trans rights are human rights and we support the right of trans people to self-identification recognised by the state and the provision of free and accessible gender-affirming healthcare through the NHS. The sustained denial of healthcare to trans people through prolonged waiting lists and gatekeeping is wreaking untold havoc upon the lives of thousands of marginalised people, and costing lives.

The unfortunate reality is that the British media is institutionally transphobic and this, of course, extends to liberal-left outlets like the Guardian. Momentum, however, cannot plausibly boycott the entirety of the British media.

What is in our power is to fight the tidal wave of transphobic hate coursing through this country, overwhelmingly whipped up by the hateful right-wing press, and aided and abetted – we must be clear – by both the Tories and the Labour leadership. We were disgusted as a campaign by the moral cowardice shown by Rachel Reeves, Wes Streeting and, most shockingly of all as Shadow Minister for Women and Equalities, Anneliese Dodds when pushed to go along with the media’s transphobic talking points. We would work to build coalitions across the labour movement in defence of trans rights – it was heartening to see UNISON vote unanimously for a motion defending trans rights recently. Momentum can and must play a constructive role through political education, as it has done previously.

To directly address the question about what kind of compromises we’d be willing to make and which we would not: we support the approach taken by the incumbent NCG not to endorse candidates who deny the rights of trans people or who engage in hateful or bigoted discourse towards the trans community.

It is also worth saying that we wouldn’t, for example, refuse to have candidates on Momentum-endorsed slates just because they are part of groups such as Jewish Voice for Labour.

NSYou’ve made an implicit critique of the Refounding Momentum process, suggesting in a video that Momentum has become “too inward-looking”2. Given this criticism, are you committed to implementing what now has been agreed in the Refounding process?

MOYes, we are committed to implementing the Refounding results.

Our critique of Refounding is not that it wasn’t desirable to put the organisation on a new, more democratic footing. The criticism concerns the process. On the one hand, it was opaque and confusing for the large majority of the membership, and actually quite undemocratic in the extent to which the NCG controlled and intervened in the process. The inadequacy of the process was encapsulated by the final ballot – an interminably long referendum sprung on the membership without even so much as a call to discuss the process, and which included questions everyone would agree to, or which were of little consequence. As Vivak Soni has noted, this has undermined the objectives of Refounding – indeed, we think it instructive that the current NCG failed to publish voting tallies, an ironic and hypocritical decision, given the focus of Refounding on transparency.

On the other hand, it soaked up far too much of the Organisation’s time and resources. Refounding took a full eighteen months, and countless hours of staff capacity. But it shouldn’t have taken that long to implement what were in many cases straightforward reforms, such as the implementation of STV, or minor adjustments to our statement of purpose. All of this drained resources, right when we were under sustained attack from the Labour Leadership. While we were facing inwards, our movement was being hammered, we were losing members, and power.

NSWe now have two related questions about the centrality of organising within the Labour Party. It strikes us that there is, at the very least, a certain lack of clarity over what restrictions are imposed on Momentum by this commitment. It is clear that for either slate Momentum being proscribed would be a catastrophe (as you’ve argued, everything for Momentum, even struggles outside Labour “is dependent on our survival within Labour”); and seeing large numbers of left councillors or candidates in internal elections suspended or expelled would also be a very significant blow to the organisation. Whilst we accept that the terrain of struggle may change in the medium to long-term, the two following questions are interested in your assessment of the situation in the here and now, given both the simultaneous weakness of the left in Labour, and Momentum’s firm commitment to the Party.

The first question is about anti-imperialism in general and the IHRA definition in particular. There’s been a certain amount of controversy over whether a candidate for an internal Labour election post was blocked from standing because of tweets that may have gone against the IHRA definition and examples around calling Israel an apartheid state.3 We are not particularly interested in relitigating the specifics of this.

What we would like to ask is: isn’t there a contradiction between, on the one hand, your argument that being proscribed would be a catastrophe, and on the other, your criticism of the current NCG? Doesn’t an orientation towards Labour, under current conditions, make a direct challenge to the IHRA impossible, or render claims such as “We won’t give in. We’ll be clearer than ever in our anti-imperialist solidarity” little more than empty grandstanding? When choosing candidates to endorse, how can Momentum avoid enforcing the IHRA, for example, if a candidate going against it will be prevented from standing by the Party?

Momentum is certainly under no obligation to block a candidate form its own elections for calling Israel a racist apartheid state. It certainly does not need to block a candidate from standing in its own primaries to decide the left slate for internal Young Labour elections for having done so. For Young Labour and internal elections, due diligence from Southside is, for obvious reasons, much less aggressive and thorough than for Parliamentary or Council candidate selections.

The notion that Momentum should act as the pre-emptive enforcer of the Labour leadership’s censorious and authoritarian criteria for vetting candidates for selection is absurd. Given the breadth of reasons for which candidates are being blocked by the party, Momentum would end up able to endorse next-to-no prospective candidates.

If, in certain circumstances, material which does not contradict Momentum’s code of ethics, but which would hand the party an easy pretext to block a prospective candidate is spotted on their social media, Momentum are likely to have identified it at a very early stage, before it has come to the attention of Labour’s Governance and Legal Unit (GLU). In those cases, it may be prudent to advise the potential candidate to wipe some of their social media history. That – not excluding someone by claiming that naming Israeli apartheid contravenes Momentum’s ‘code of ethics’ – should be the default course of action in such instances.

Given the increasingly far-fetched reasons being cited by Labour for excluding candidates, such as the mere mention of Palestinian refugees or any expression of support for Jeremy Corbyn, there will clearly be a large number of cases which are seen as grounds for blocking by the Leadership, but which are wholly legitimate, such is the scale of McCarthyism.

It may be the case that Labour’s leadership blocks the overwhelming majority of prospective parliamentary candidates Momentum has endorsed. Indeed, it is increasingly clear that this will be the case. Some of them will no doubt be blocked because they have a history of publicly standing with the Palestinian people. That highlights hard limitations on our power in the party, imposed by two years of defeat layered upon defeat. We can organise to overcome those barriers, but we shouldn’t try and circumvent them by making Momentum the enforcer of Labour’s ever-more racist, censorious, and authoritarian vetting procedures.

We might also consider the SCG, where a commitment to being Labour MPs necessarily led to capitulation on the Stop the War statement—given this, does your argument for greater co-ordination with the SCG also further impose a limit on what can be said?

Absolutely not. First and foremost because Momentum can speak much more freely, forthrightly, and antagonistically than Socialist Campaign Group MPs are able to under current conditions. That’s the case for a simple reason: SCG MPs are subject to the whims of the most aggressive and high-handed Parliamentary whipping operation we have ever seen, directed by an incredibly authoritarian Leader of the Opposition’s Office. The threat of proscription may impose certain limits on what Momentum does (e.g. not being able to endorse non-Labour candidates) and to some extent on what we can say as an organisation – but the bar for expulsion is much higher and less arbitrary than that which the MPs must contend with.

In other words, Momentum’s leadership has an important role to play in exercising its relative freedom (vis. Left MPs) to be both combative with Labour right, and honest with activists and comrades about the seriousness and difficulty of the Labour Left’s position. It is hard for SCG MPs, at the moment, to be open and clear about the fact that the Labour right are the principal enemy – and that we must organise and build alliances to defeat them in the party if we are to survive. We are structurally able to abandon ‘cruel optimism’ in a way the SCG MPs will struggle to under present conditions.

We don’t think Momentum’s current leadership – running for re-election as ‘Your Momentum’ – have always used this freedom as effectively as they might. The organisation’s response to Jeremy’s suspension was feeble and ineffective, and more recently it failed to defend Stop the War. Momentum could, for example, have helped keep space open for anti-imperialist politics by advancing criticisms of NATO as the MPs were prevented from doing so.

We also, though, think it’s important not to overstate the extent to which the SCG MPs have been cowed. In recent months, left MPs have freely called Israel an apartheid state, backed the BDS movement, done crucial work continuing to oppose the government’s authoritarianism, and stood alongside striking workers, championing their interests in Parliament while the Labour leadership attacks trade unions. Let’s be clear about what limits have been imposed on the SCG – that means neither understating nor exaggerating them! Downplaying the weakness of their position means we are masking difficulties and essentially lying, while overstating it conduces to defeatism and further demoralisation.

Finally, it’s worth saying that collaboration between the SCG and Momentum – of which there is surprisingly little at the moment, informal or formal – would centrally be aimed at ensuring our common defence, defending and opening up space for the left in the party, while targeting Momentum’s resources more effectively to e.g. help MPs with their trigger ballots. Only in a scenario where such collaboration was formalised in a new organisational structure with its own organs of communication would Momentum risk – by extension – coming under the discipline of the Labour whips office. That situation is unlikely to materialise any time soon.

More generally, you’ve argued that the current NCG should have done more to defend suspended/expelled members. Given Momentum’s lack of leverage and the indifference of the Labour leadership to “natural justice”, what more do you think could have been done?

MOWe have not argued this. On the contrary, we have spoken positively of the work of Momentum’s staff in defending and supporting suspended and expelled members. This work needs to be improved and extended, including through better publicity around the most egregious and unjust cases, but you are right about the difficulties here. One way in which this work could be advanced, perhaps, is by coupling legal and behind-the-scenes procedural support with making political arguments publicly. If a member is suspended for contravening the IHRA examples, say, Momentum can both help them behind the scenes and ensure it is publicly campaigning against the narrowing of space and the silencing of the Palestinian people and their supporters demonstrated by such cases. That is unlikely to change outcomes in individual cases, but it is important nevertheless.

NSOur second question on this topic is about local councillors. Momentum Organisers emphasises the importance of electing left councillors and having “a strong Momentum presence in local government”. But what can left councillors who are a minority actually do, given the disciplines imposed by Labour groups? In Liverpool, councillors—including a current member of Momentum’s NCG—were suspended and ultimately expelled for refusing to vote for cuts. Does an unambiguous commitment to Labour membership mean left councillors having to keep their heads down and support measures that will put them on the wrong side of community struggles against cuts or around housing?

MOBeing an isolated socialist councillor in a right-wing group can be a very challenging experience, and may well entail difficult compromises to conform to the requirements of group discipline. Much depends on how many supportive colleagues there are to form a left caucus, the strength of the left in other local party structures (especially LGCs and CLPs), the existence or not of progressive community coalitions, the attitude of the whips and how factionally charged the internal culture of the group is. These factors vary widely, and are one of the many reasons we have stressed the need for Momentum to concentrate its efforts where the conditions for success are most promising.

But it is a mistake to think that it’s “left majority or bust”. Even where the left is a minority on the Labour Group, there are countless examples of socialist councillors making an impact, either through direct wins for the left or by pressuring group leaderships to stick closer to their progressive commitments. In the newly-elected Labour Wandsworth council, Aydin Dikerdem, an inspirational municipal socialist leader and backer of our campaign, has taken on the housing portfolio, promising to build 1,000 new council homes and take on dodgy landlords. A minority of socialists on Oxford City Council - including Momentum Organiser Paula Dunne - has won key concessions on landlord licensing, the living wage and migrant justice, through effective leverage. There is much to be won - and with our local organising plans, we would support activists on the ground to set clear goals and action plans to reach them.

NS“Organising” has become something of a buzzword on the post-2019 left. Can you clarify what this term means to you?

MOOrganising in a broad sense means coordinating, and if possible growing, the people and resources at one’s disposal to build power and achieve certain goals, in our case political.

The specific reason why socialists in particular apply this word to our work is through a recognition that, unlike the concentrated power of capital, the power of workers, though potentially an unstoppable revolutionary force, has the particular problem of being fragmented, completely dependent on uniting the power of the greatest possible number of people. This requires mass political and industrial organisation.

Our argument is not just for ‘more’ organising, although we do need that, and we have already got going with practical activist meet-ups focused on building local organising plans, and a 121 persuasive conversations training tonight [Tuesday].

Our argument is also that we need a better strategy for our organising efforts. To return to our initial definition, one might ask what kind of activity best builds power and helps us achieve our goals? Organising a strong caucus of socialist councillors who can work with local community coalitions does that. Viral clips of James O’Brien interviewing a hapless Tory politician does not. Organising in a socialist society to help improve our position on the NEC builds our power. NGO-style national ‘day of action’ campaigns do not.

NSMomentum’s political education programme around trans rights, climate justice, and racial justice has been one of the conspicuous successes of the past two years, quite decisively raising the political level of the organisation? Does the sharper focus on “organising” and on the Labour Party mean dropping aspects of this programme? Given that we are in what feels like a very clear period of left retreat, would it be better to use this time to develop capacities and understanding, rather than focusing almost exclusively on a Labour Party in which prospects for the left feel decisively blocked?

MOPolitical education is a vital tool for the left. Our campaign is lucky enough to have several organisers of the Bristol Transformed group on it, including Kieran Glasssmith in the South West, a group which has built a vibrant political culture able to withstand the stresses of defeat. It gives people the skills, tools and networks to build working-class power in Bristol.

Political education is most effective when it serves clear goals. Who is being educated, and to what end? What is the pipeline? Programmes like the Leo Panitch Programme are a real asset to Momentum - but they need to be more clearly tied into a cadre-building strategy which serves Momentum’s goals, not that of some abstract movement. Every time that Momentum establishes a new political education project, it should be thinking of what the intended audience is, and where the programme is intended to bring them. Education is a core part of the socialist struggle - but only when it is connected to socialist movements and ends.

Likewise, our campaign has been clear that Momentum should not attempt to do everything, but rather should recognise its role in the movement ecology, in which different organisations serve different purposes, and work together as one. In this regard, Momentum should continue to work closely with The World Transformed, a socialist organisation established precisely to focus on political education. And the suggestion that Momentum’s climate justice project should become an organising force encapsulates our point about duplication - we already have a fantastic affiliate in Labour for a Green New Deal set up precisely to do this work. They need support, not replication.

Because the truth is if you prioritise everything, you prioritise nothing. We’ve seen the concrete results of Momentum trying to do everything: two years of defeat, decline and disorientation. Neither Momentum’s political education efforts - individually worthy as they may be - nor its organising have been tied up to any sort of organisational strategy, beyond the unhelpfully broad Socialist Organising in a New Era, a still-in-force, un-updated ‘strategy’ document which naively talks of pushing Starmer’s Labour to adopt a socialist policy platform in 2024.

As for the suggestion that Momentum should focus on developing capacities and understanding to the exclusion of organising, we wholeheartedly disagree. Firstly, all the political education in the world won’t help our movement if we are proscribed or if leading SCG MPs have the whip removed. This threat is real, and it would be catastrophic for Momentum, in turn denting our political project, our membership numbers, our finances and thus our very ability to conduct political education projects in the first place. There can be no movement to train up without power and, for want of a better word, momentum. Our current downward trajectory cannot be salvaged by simply turning inward - fundamentally, we need power.

Fortunately, though, we believe that this is a false dichotomy. We can only win power with a skilled, organised movement - that takes the trainings like the ones we’ve been running throughout the campaign. Those victories in turn beget more confidence, more hope, and more members. More members means more resources - a virtuous circle is possible, but people need a sense of clear direction, and victories to galvanise them. Where political education is done right, it works hand in glove with organising goals - and reaches out beyond our core support to bring new people in.

NSWould a significant change of leadership in Momentum at this time lead to months and months of inward-looking efforts to turn the organisation around? What would another change in organisational focus mean for current staff? Would the organisation now be better off building on what has been institutionally established through the Refounding process (whatever one may think of it), rather than seeing a new leadership—one that’s likely to make understandable mistakes due to inexperience—attempt to transform the organisation yet again?

MOThis is a very strange question to be asked during a democratic election for a socialist organisation! By this logic, we might as well cancel the election and members’ right to choose their leaders, based on the upheaval it might theoretically cause.

To answer this question on its own terms: there will be no new Refounding process if we are elected. Momentum must not and will not, if we are elected, face inwards at this moment of crisis. As we have argued above, the 18 months the process took was deeply damaging, both in its impact on member engagement, and in terms of the resources it drained for an organisation under attack. Instead, our first priorities will be winning the Young Labour, Labour Students and, where possible, individual NEC seat elections taking place this summer for the left – that’s where the left can come together and Momentum can use its mobilisation prowess to win for socialism.

At any rate, most of the public-facing Momentum leadership are stepping down, for whatever reason. So there will be fresh blood in any case - we think it should be accompanied with fresh ideas and a fresh focus.

In that regard, we believe that Momentum cannot in fact afford to stay on its current trajectory of defeat and decline. In the past two years Momentum has failed to put forward a compelling strategy for responding to Establishment attacks. As a result, it has faced a sustained decline in membership - and therefore revenue. This has, in turn, had negative consequences on staffing: it appears that two digital media roles recently became vacant but were merged into one. Even worse, the Labour Leadership looks to be gearing up for a full-scale confrontation with the Left. Yet faced with this iceberg, the Your Momentum leadership are cheerily ploughing full steam straight ahead, reassuring members with typically boosterist obfuscation and false optimism.

We can’t afford to keep losing power, members and money. That isn’t good for anyone in Momentum, whether an NCG member, staffer or grassroots activist. To survive, we need to change.

NSThere is not much overlap between your “core group of six people” listed on your website, and the candidates Momentum Organisers are running for the NCG election. Was this intentional? If so, why? Are the ‘core group’ a sort of power-behind-the-throne that cohere MO as a slate? If so, how will the core group be democratically accountable to the membership?

MOTwo out of six campaign founders are running for election, including myself - this was always expected. Mark, for example, has his hands full running the Socialist Health Association as Chair, so couldn’t commit the time needed; likewise, Sharmina combines duties as a councillor, CLP exec member, chair of insourcing commission and much more besides - she may be a trooper, but if you added long NCG meetings on top, there’d be no more hours in the day! The aim was always to set off the campaign with an idea, build up a programme with meetings on the ground and recruit a strong slate of experienced, energetic organisers, and that’s exactly what’s happened.

The group of six has, as a collective, now stepped back from management of the campaign - the slate makes the calls! This will of course continue through to a new, and politically-mixed NCG. It might make for a more exciting election, but there is no power-behind-the-throne! Just a group of comrades who came together with a vision for where Momentum needed to go next, and now a (hopefully!) highly-publicised slate of candidates.

(This question was answered by Lewis Dagnall, ex-councillor, trade unionist: Yorkshire).

NSAs our conception of Bad New Times suggests, we are very sympathetic to MO’s attempts to face up to the badness of the situation in which the left finds itself. But is there a disjuncture between the pessimism of the diagnosis and the persistence of a false optimism of the will? If, as the current state of NEC nominations seems to bear out, there simply aren’t enough left-wing members in the Party, even the best organising in the world will have limited successes.

In these circumstances, how does the injunction merely to organise better, and with a greater focus, both affect the current balance of forces and avoid slipping into a bootstrappy managerialism (we have a plan, you must carry it out, and if it doesn’t work, it’s your fault and you’re on your own)? This latter tendency is also suggested by the implication that socialism is external to so-called ‘ordinary people’ and the working class (“socialists have one job: convince ordinary people they can change the world - and show them how to do it”).

In your LabourList piece, you criticise the current NCG, saying that “there hasn’t been a plan”—but beyond a demand to ‘organise’, and to not do some other things, what is your plan?

MOFirstly, you can find our full plan, a two-year programme for Momentum, on our website, released this morning (Tuesday 28th June). In contrast to our opponents’ long wishlist, it is a worked out, resourced plan to put Momentum back on the front foot, after two years of defeat. The plan addresses local power bases, the balance of forces in the Labour party and movement, and coordination across the left, in turn.

We think it’s a serious problem for the Labour Left that our leaders are either unable or unwilling to communicate openly and honestly about the reality of the conjuncture we face. Though Your Momentum are now very belatedly claiming the mantle of realism, the current Momentum leadership has been characterised by conscious boosterist and cruel optimism. While Starmer was toasting locking the left out of power in the party for the foreseeable future at conference last year, a leading member of the NCG was proclaiming at The World Transformed: “we are building a socialist majority in the party and in the country.” This kind of well-meaning dishonesty leaves comrades cold, and it disorients us strategically. The core of their pitch in this election, after two years of disaster for the Labour Left, seems to be: everything is fine — two more years!

We agree that the situation for the left in Labour is very bad — indeed, it is existential — and hope we haven’t fallen prey to false optimism of the will. Our launch article clearly identified both the existential threats facing the Labour Left, and accordingly defined an overriding strategic objective: ensuring the left’s survival in the party. This is an important point for us to clarify. It’s not that we are opposed to Momentum playing a much more ambitious and wide ranging role across the wider left. It would be wonderful if we had the capacity to do so, but it’s hard to have ‘one foot in, one foot out’ of Labour if we are permanently defeated in the party. Then we will just be locked out of the state, and Momentum will be devoid of purpose. Envisioning such a capacious role for Momentum, in other words, is obviously premature.

Instead, our plan lays out key sites where we can win, from regional executives to socialist societies to local government. In each case, these structures have been targeted because of their potential to facilitate further wins.

Already, however, our campaign has rediscovered some of the Corbynite movement’s lost energy. We’ve had dozens of comrades attend activist meet-ups across the country, with numbers which, while still modest, are a marked jump on the usual moribund standard these days. Comrades who have left Labour and Momentum have come along to our meetings - and bought in. This is a key focus for our campaign. Through solid organising techniques, clear direction and concerted effort, we can rebuild the movement.

In contrast, the strategy of the incumbents has been to lecture the movement, with condescending articles claiming that those who’ve left the Party don’t understand that Labour is the pitch politics is played on.

The point on managerialism is, we would contend, a rather cynical reading. This comment was made by one of our campaign founders, Matt Holinshead, a founding member of ACORN Bristol and an active trade union organiser, who has brought much organising zeal to the campaign. A key motivating force of our campaign is giving people the tools and support to fight for socialism where they are, as part of a joined-up strategy.

Finally, on the possibility of winning: a key focus for Momentum Organisers has been to learn what has worked on the ground, and roll out the lessons nationwide. Our team of organisers has had successes locally, whether that’s turning Worthing Council red with an energised movement, stopping damaging housing developments in Haringey or helping care workers win a pay rise in Salford. Mohammad is chair of North West Young Labour - the left comfortably held the North West regional executive, as other areas fell. The first step to get back on the path to victory is to have confidence and a clear idea of where you’re headed.

NSMany local Momentum groups have become moribund, and it seems clear that what Vivak Soni has described as the “democratic centralist” features of the organisation are in part a result of this: waning capacity for initiative at the grassroots means decisions have to be taken centrally. You have an organising plan for local groups, but doesn’t this rely on the groups having a greater capacity to act than they do now? Are the forms of support you’re calling for adequate to address that?

MOThere is undoubtedly a large issue – Momentum’s local groups network is not in rude health. We know this only too well -–whether it’s Sasha in Newham, Des in Coventry or Sam in Huntingdon, many of our Organisers, like most of the membership, live in areas where groups are either non-existent or moribund. Plainly, the Momentum leadership’s strategy has not been working.

There are some practical steps that could be taken. One of them is a simple yet potentially transformative step: to ensure adequate access to data. This has been a concern for years - with groups largely run by working people, hurdles like this become mountains. So one key policy is to revamp and upgrade local groups’ data access - Momentum nationally should be a facilitator, not a gatekeeper.

Another practical but significant problem faced by local groups is the complex, bureaucratic process to get money from the organisation for projects. Local groups members pay in but can’t easily take out. Our Local Groups Levy will give groups the ability to raise steady income from local membership subs for the first time. Momentum nationally would establish a system where members could opt in to an extra levy, starting at just a couple of quid a month. This would in turn be ringfenced for their local group. This will allow groups to finance themselves in a sustainable way, with a regular monthly income rather than being dependent on time-consuming asks nationally.

But your question is correct - there is also a larger political issue. Despite their claims to the contrary, we would argue that Forward Momentum has often adopted a top-down (you could even say democratic centralist!) approach to local groups. This was typified in the housing campaign, imposing a certain form of struggle from the outside. The campaign fell flat for just this reason - there was no organic social base or organisation, merely an NGO-style national ‘day of action’.

By contrast, our local organising plans would see Momentum Organisers collaborate with local groups on the ground to map their communities, identify effective targets for Momentum locally, and set out an action plan. Instead of drift and demoralisation, Momentum groups would have clarity of purpose. Key to this is understanding their role in the movement - as we have laid out, the Labour Left has flourished where it has effectively coordinated, rather than tried to replicate other groups, rebadged as “a bridge”. After all, who would join a Labour Left-aligned housing campaign, when an ACORN or LRU branch offered more political possibilities, clearer focus and stronger organisation?

Instead, Momentum Organisers aims to collaboratively set goals for local groups, and give them the basic organising tools and support needed to work towards them. We cannot expect activists to do this on the basis of long guidance docs or pure advice. We want to skill up the movement - not just in terms of political knowledge, but also in terms of political action.

NSWhilst mistakes may well have been made by the current leadership, a major aspect of the loss of activists in local groups has been that many comrades now understandably want nothing to do with the Labour Party. Given this, won’t your tight focus on organising within Labour compound this issue rather than address it? Equally, if the strategy is to focus on places where important wins are possible, what will happen to local groups in areas where the balance of power in the Party means that very little can be achieved on that level? Are members in those areas likely to continue paying dues and voting in national internal elections for Momentum-backed candidates if Momentum offers them so little in return?

MOWe sympathise with this position - it’s really fucking hard. It is plainly not enjoyable to be fighting it out with distasteful people who believe distasteful things, in a party which is rigged against you.

The basic reason why Momentum has lost so many members is demoralisation: demoralisation at constant defeats and humiliations within Labour; demoralisation because of a lack of leadership or clear plan from the NCG; demoralisation because there has been little to hope for. We should be clear: this widespread demoralisation has only worsened throughout the NCG’s tenure. Their strategy hasn’t worked - and isn’t working.

Momentum was dealt a poor hand by the successive defeats of 2019 and 2020. Unfortunately, however, they played a bad hand badly. As we have argued, the evictions resistance campaign drained valuable resources right when Momentum should have been putting all hands on deck to select socialist delegates for Conference. Starmer’s leadership rule change - a huge blow to the left - passed by 53 to 47%. If it had failed, his leadership would have been in serious trouble, the Left would have just scored a huge win, and thousands more people would likely be members of Momentum right now. That’s what effective organising can achieve.

We have an organising plan to win power for the left at key sites, locally and nationally. Naturally, there will be places where the balance of forces makes some avenues unlikely - though we should be looking to seed groups as widely as possible. Indeed, Momentum Organiser in the South East Hilary Schan-Martyn has served as campaign co-ordinator in Worthing, where a strong activist base built up under Jeremy Corbyn powered the Labour presence on the council from zero in 2016 to control of the council now. Nonetheless, we recognise the local group form won’t suddenly become viable everywhere overnight.

But there will also be institutional organising to do - for example our work in relation to socialist societies. At any rate, the question is right to strike at the heart of an issue: members have few ways to get more involved if there’s no local group. We need an integrated activist pipeline in this regard, with potential to use Big Organising techniques to harness the power of volunteers, a perhaps under-utilised technique in Momentum which could expand our capacity.

Ultimately we have a political strategy - a first step we don’t believe the other side can claim to possess. The best we can and will do - as we have been doing throughout the campaign - is be clear about it, try to win people over as comrades, respect comrades’ political differences rather than condescend, and hope we’re successful. We’ve found sizeable success already - with well-attended in person meetings, a resurgent sense of energy, and a sizeable number of comrades who’ve been inspired to (re)join the organisation.

People have not left because there is a Great Other Hope out there - they’ve left because they can’t see a point staying. It’s our job to show them one, not sell bromides about how we’re ‘building power’ when plainly we’ve been suffering relentless defeat.

In the end our position is simple: respect your comrades enough to be honest with them; try to win people over with a focused, organising agenda.

NSThanks so much for your time! We really hope this will be useful to Momentum members.

You can read our interview with Your Momentum here. The ballot will close on July 6th at 17.00 BST.

  1. See for example here, here, and here—content note on all examples for anti-trans bigotry. 

  2. The specific claim can be found at 1:34. 

  3. We asked Momentum Organisers if they wanted to insert a link to explain their side of what had happened, and they replied: “We don’t have a ‘side’ in that we were neither involved in the online Twitter and WhatsApp debates, nor did we engage with them.” For their part, Your Momentum refer Momentum members to this thread from outgoing Momentum chair, Gaya Sriskanthan