Submission to the Momentum Refounding Process- towards a more radical Momentum

“Naturally every party leadership wants to see successes and this is quite good too. But there are circumstances in which one must have the courage to sacrifice momentary success for more important things.” – Friedrich Engels, June 1873.

Since its inception in 2015, Momentum has been the largest left wing membership organisation in Britain. Its rapid growth was in part due to its close ties to the rise of Corbynism. Local Momentum groups had the potential to create a space for the development of a coherent left faction within the Labour Party – the grassroots link to the leadership. 

However, the organisation has been hampered by a lack of any political program beyond a vague commitment to implementing socialism via the Labour Party, and with what is meant by ‘socialism’ left open to interpretation. Put simply, there is no coherent line on any given issue. This has led to some bizarre output, including a video suggesting state intervention is equivalent to socialism, and the organisation being reactive to events within the Labour Party, rather than pushing forward a disciplined, radical line both inside and outside of the Party. This has wider implications for socialist strategy. How can an overarching strategy exist without a consistent political line? It has also meant that Momentum have ended up backing Centre Left Grassroots Alliance slates that have included transphobic candidates on multiple occasions; the CLGA’s slate-making is oblique and barely democratic at all. Candidates are proposed and then agreed by consensus, with no formal process or rules. This is justified by the need for unity between the various member organisations in order to run a joint campaign, but ignores the disunity it creates among rank and file members. It is also unrealistic and frankly insulting to expect comrades to vote for their oppressors.

Recently, Momentum published their strategic document; Socialist Organising in a New Era. Much of the focus was around popularising socialist ideas and pushing for the Labour Party to run in the 2024 general election on a socialist platform. The crucial issue here is that Momentum have never actually defined what socialism is. Instead policies such as the Green New Deal and nationalisation of public infrastructure have been labelled socialist. Whilst these policies deserve to be looked at on their own merit, and may be what socialists should be advocating for, Keynesian economic policy and public ownership are clearly not socialism in a rigorous, theoretical sense. This massively limits our horizons, and has wider implications for political education.

Towards a political platform and minimum programme

To address these issues we have submitted the following proposals to the political strand of Momentum’s refounding process. The first- and most urgent- is to develop a political platform and a minimum political programme. A minimum programme is a set of policies that together represent the minimum threshold for Momentum to back a party. This should contain defined terms which will inform a more coherent set of politics, and a minimum programme. This platform is central to proposals 2 and 3. We propose that the criteria for Momentum membership should no longer be membership of the Labour Party, but acceptance of the political platform. Likewise, any candidate standing at any level of parliamentary politics must be a Momentum member to receive the organisation’s backing. If elected, they must regularly meet with Momentum assemblies and vote as a block based on the political platform- even if that means defying a whip- and the organisation should be prepared to withdraw support from candidates who act in ways that are in conflict with its platform. Together these proposals should help to create a more disciplined organisation with a set of political principles that all members are bound to, regardless of their position.

Constitutional issues

An organisation’s constitution is important because it purports to allocate and administer power in an organisation. The Momentum constitution is carefully thought through and it has many strengths. In particular, it makes specific provision for including members in decision making. However, the constitution does not explain how it was drafted and promulgated, which divorces it from historical context . It also lacks reference to the constitutional principles, and historical examples of similar (and different) organisations, which have influenced it. It would benefit from a preamble that explains this historical and theoretical context.

There is also inadequate provision for a process by which the membership can discipline NCG delegates. Specifically, limited mechanisms currently exist for recalling delegates. That stems in part from a lack of membership constituencies capable of holding individual NCG members accountable for their actions. Political enforcement of NCG discipline by other NCG members, the membership generally, and even non-members has a role to play, but a formal constitutional mechanism for forcing a recall is necessary.

Implementing democratic structures

Central to addressing the structural issues highlighted above is bridging the disconnect between the membership and the NCG. This involves greater access to information, as well as membership oversight of the NCG. The former must centre around every member having access to information on the state of the organisation, including finances and membership numbers. Too often, individuals join an organisation and are presented with a constitution that appears to be immutable. It is vital that Momentum contextualise the historical logics that resulted in the current constitution.

Currently there exists a Membership Council consisting of 50 members chosen by sortition. This council exists in a purely advisory capacity. The purpose of the Members Council must be reformulated to ensure that NCG short-to-medium term activity complies with the political platform and minimum programme, specifically by having the power to recall NCG decisions on the basis that they contradict either. 

A programmatic vision for a radical organisation

Taken together these proposals will give Momentum a political and structural coherence that is currently lacking. As the largest left organisation in the UK, it is vital that members are involved at every level of decision-making in the organisation, and that Momentum is able to produce a serious, long term strategy based on historical analysis and a thoroughgoing understanding of the current moment.

Proposals for the Politics and People Assembly

Proposal 1: Democratic process for developing Momentum’s political platform

Reasoning: Currently Momentum has no clear and democratically agreed political platform or minimum programme. This is a considerable obstacle to the organisation developing a coherent and disciplined line.

Proposal: The remedy proposed involves a democratic process that embeds deliberation and sortition to diversify participation and avails itself of a digital democracy platform, without allowing it to become an instrument for ratifying top-down decisions. This involves the setting up of a digital democracy platform to facilitate the development of a political platform and minimum programme for the organisation, with theoretically informed definitions of socialism and the state to provide a conceptual framework. The steps of the process should be as follows:

  1. Set up a digital democracy platform that allows members to submit, deliberate upon, amend, and up-vote proposals for the political platform and minimum programme.
  1. Any Momentum member can submit a proposal to the digital platform, where all members will be able to view them. Proposals must obtain the support of 150 Momentum members on the digital democracy platform to go forward. At that point, they will be open to amendment and compositing, and those amendments in the top 30% of up-voting will go forward for collating as part of the platform at a Momentum National Convention.
  1. Proposals and amendments will be collated and turned into a coherent platform by a working group of 18 Momentum members chosen by sortition. At least 2 must be representatives from WLF or CFS, and at least 4 must be from BAME backgrounds. Only 2 may be members of the NCG.
  1. The draft platform and minimum programme will be published for members via the digital democracy platform, with time for amendments to be submitted and up-voted.
  1. Proposals and amendments will be debated at a Momentum National Convention. Proposers and proposers of amendments will be given time to speak and recordings of these speeches will be made available on the digital democracy platform. Only amendments that make substantive changes will be accepted for consideration at the Convention, without adding wholly new planks to the platform. The entire platform, including the proposals and amendments, will be voted on with a one member one vote (OMOV) ballot. 
  1. The working group will collate and publish the final political platform, which will then form the central political document of the organisation.
  1. Though the entire process must be a democratic one in which members determine the future of Momentum, it is important that we operate with theoretically accurate definitions. Therefore Momentum will adopt the following definitions:

g1) Momentum to recognise the following definition of socialism: “Socialism is necessarily the abolition of class society; the end to the separation of the worker from the objective conditions of production. To truly democratise the economy would require a free association of producers who consciously plan production and distribution. What distinguishes socialism from capitalism is that the exchange of labour time for social products is transparent, and thus labour is no longer alienated. This radical transformation of production relations is critical to any definition of socialism. Moreover, insofar as capitalism is a globalised and self-expanding system, socialism in one country is impossible to sustain. Socialism is an internationalist project. Likewise, any new system of production will bear the marks of what came before; socialism is a historically contingent project for which there cannot be any blueprints.”

g2) Momentum to recognise the following definition of the state: “The state is the mechanism by which the ruling class secures and maintains domination over society and one of the means by which it organises itself internally. It is not a static institution but a process by which class relations are transformed into institutional forms—forms which are historically contingent. Even when it appears to take a democratic or parliamentary form, it nonetheless functions as an instrument of class dictatorship at both a national and international level. The formal rights won through working-class struggle or granted by the state are not sufficient in themselves for building the power necessary for the abolition of class society and may often obscure the extent to which the state excludes those it is meant to represent.” 

Proposal 2: Membership requirements

Reasoning: Currently the only requirement to become a Momentum member is membership of the Labour Party. This keeps the organisation too closely tethered to the Party, and fails to promote a unified message.

Proposal: Membership should be open to every person who accepts the substantive character of the organisation’s political platform. Acceptance does not mean agreement with every point of the platform, and members are free to organise within Momentum to make specific changes to the platform. Rather, it means committing to fight for the platform as the overall expression of the movement’s aims.

Proposal 3: Supporting parliamentary candidates

Reasoning: Currently there is no formal process for how Momentum decides to back candidates at any parliamentary level. This has led to support for individuals who have previously made transphobic comments. Adherence to a political platform will prevent this happening again.

Proposal: For any candidate standing at any level of parliamentary politics to receive Momentum’s support they must:

a) Be a member of Momentum.

b) If the candidate is successful, any hired staff must also be Momentum members.

c) They must accept and pledge to promote and fight for the Momentum political platform if one is passed.

d) Must agree to quarterly meetings with an assembly constituted of the Momentum NCG and delegates from local Momentum branches.

e) All Momentum members in parliament must vote as a block, based on the political principles of Momentum, regardless of the Party whip.


Proposal 4: Deliberate the utility of the CLGA

Reasoning: Momentum have backed Centre Left Grassroots Alliance slates that have included transphobic individuals on multiple occasions; the CLGA’s slate-making is oblique and barely democratic at all. Candidates are proposed and then agreed by consensus, with no formal process or rules. This is justified by the need for unity between the various member organisations in order to run a joint campaign, but ignores the disunity it creates among rank and file members. It is also unrealistic and frankly insulting to expect comrades to vote for their oppressors.

Proposal: A working group of 18 Momentum members chosen by sortition to be set up to produce a report into whether the CLGA is fit for purpose. At least 2 must be representatives from WLF or CFS, and at least 4 must be from BAME backgrounds. Only 2 may be members of the NCG. Once the report is completed it is to be published, with any proposals coming out of it to be voted on by Momentum members in an OMOV ballot.


Proposals for the Power and participation assembly

Proposal 1: Publication of Momentum finances

Reasoning: Currently Momentum members have no information about the state of the organisation, both in terms of membership numbers and organisation finances. This reinforces a vertical dynamic where only a small number have access to important organisational metrics.

Proposal: Momentum NCG should publish quarterly reports on organisation finances, total number of members and number of local Momentum groups.

Proposal 2: Historical and theoretical context of the organisation

Reasoning: The Momentum constitution contains no information on how it was drafted and in what historical context. This gives the impression that it is immutable. 

Proposal: NCG to write a preamble to the constitution, explaining the historical and theoretical context. 


Proposal 3: Momentum to adopt a definition of Labourism.

Reasoning: Since its founding Momentum has been heavily orientated towards the Labour Party. This has limited its ability to produce a coherent critique of the party and its structural role in maintaining imperial capitalist relations. Defining Labourism as a structural phenomenon is an important step in developing this critique.

Proposal: Momentum to adopt the following definition of Labourism: “Labourism derives from moderate trade unionism, which in turn developed out of the specific conditions of the British proletariat during the second half of the 19th century. Although oppressed by capitalism, the British working class during this period benefited from Britain’s imperialism and world economic dominance. As a result, British trade unionism’s ideal became obtaining ‘a fair deal’, and eschewed a reckoning with capitalism itself. Since the creation of the Labour Party, Labourism has endured thanks in no small part to Britain’s first past the post electoral system. Labourism operates as an ideological fetter that inhibits the free pursuit of socialist praxis. As such, it poses an obstacle that must be confronted by any organisation serious about building socialism.”

Proposal 4. NCG accountability and long-term strategic coherence. 

Reasoning: Currently a Members’ Council consisting of 50 Momentum members is chosen by lot every six months. The council exists in a purely advisory capacity, wielding no executive power. This means there is no body with formal oversight over the NCG. The NCG has tended to get bogged down in short-term, opportunist decision making. There is no, or no adequate, mechanism for preventing the NCG from making short-term decisions that contradict the organisation’s long-term strategy (see political proposal 1 for the need to develop a long-term strategy in the form of a political platform). There is also no, or no adequate, mechanism for members to directly hold the NCG to account.

The NCG is currently free to do more or less what it wants. This proposal builds on the related proposal of setting up a political platform. From that starting point, the proposal consists of creating a mechanism by which membership can hold the NCG to account if it departs from the political platform
. 

Proposal: The membership shall have a mechanism by which to recall NCG decisions. The purpose of the Members Council shall be reformulated to include ensuring that NCG short-to-medium term activity complies with the political platform and minimum programme, specifically by having the power to recall NCG decisions on the basis that they contradict either.

Proposal 5. NCG term limits

Reasoning: The absence of term limits results in elected representatives always keeping an eye on future electability, leading to short term wins being prioritised. This is particularly important in the current moment, with the left in disarray and class consciousness in wider society is at a very low level. Term limits would also generate incentives for the leadership to grow the movement and politically educate future generations of leaders.

Proposal: Individual NCG members are limited to 2 consecutive terms. After two further terms they may again qualify to stand for the NCG.

-written and ratified by labour transformed members
July 2021

If you would like to support and cosign this proposal, please follow this link

Proposal Summary

Proposals for the Politics and People assembly:

Proposal 1: Democratic process for developing Momentum’s political platform

Proposal 2: Membership requirements

Proposal 3: Supporting parliamentary candidates

Proposal 4: Deliberate the utility of the CLGA

Proposals for the Power and participation assembly:

Proposal 1: Publication of Momentum finances

Proposal 2: Historical and theoretical context of the organisation

Proposal 3: Momentum to adopt a definition of Labourism

Proposal 4. NCG accountability and long-term strategic coherence 

Proposal 5. NCG term limits