Nearly 50 activists voted by over three to one to constitute themselves as Lambeth Momentum and Southwark Momentum on Thursday 15 October. They were enthused by the opportunity to create a movement oriented to struggle against the Tories – but also by the urgent need to complete the work of the sweeping victory of Jeremy Corbyn in Labour’s leadership poll by transforming the party. Local activist Joe told the meeting that Momentum was created by Corbyn, McDonnell and the leadership of his election campaign team. A hundred thousand supporters of Jeremy registered their commitment to keep in touch after his election and get active in the fight against war, cuts and privatisation. It is becoming rapidly clear that Momentum could develop into a real mass movement that can both organise and increase the numbers of those joining Labour in order to support Jeremy’s campaign manifesto, and to defend him and his policies against the Tories, the millionaire media and Labour’s right wing.
The average age of the turnout was around 30, but the loudest applause came for octogenarian Ted Knight, who led Lambeth council’s defiance of Tory rate-capping cuts in the 1980s, being surcharged for his role. “I first joined the Labour party in 1948,” he said, “and this is the best chance I’ve ever had to fundamentally change the party. This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. We must, must take it.”
The wide-ranging discussion about what kind of movement comrades wanted to build, however, did reveal differences of outlook.
While there was probably a majority in the room who were already members of the Labour party, or who were in the process of joining it, there were also Green Party and Socialist Party (SP) members and at least one from Spain’s Podemos, although significantly no members of the Socialist Workers Party (SWP), as well as various activists with no political affiliation or openly questioning theirs.
To what extent should Momentum be a movement focused, though not exclusively, on making the Labour party a home for the new layer of activists, winning the party at all levels to an anti-austerity, anti-neoliberal and antiwar agenda, and replacing right-wing delegates and candidates with class fighters?
SP supporters persistently posed the question of successfully ousting councilors who make cuts as a litmus test for Corbyn’s supporters. This was a silly piece of ultra-leftism. As Ruth of Streatham CLP pointed out, it would be political suicide to go to your first meeting and demand new councillors; the first task is to make the case for Jeremy’s policies, work alongside those with similar views and make the meetings less bloody bureaucratic and boring.
Everyone knows we have to win a majority of MPs and councillors for the left but you can only do that by joining the party and getting stuck in. The SP, however, are stuck outside the Labour party with a perspective of winning trade union leaders to breaking with Labour and building a new workers’ party on, well, pretty much Jeremy’s politics.
Others, perhaps more libertarian in outlook, wanted the movement to be more plural and a place where activists from multiple parties could come together to fight austerity and militarism. The problem with this is that we already have the People’s Assembly (and while it is to the right of Corbyn, many of his leading supporters in the movement are also in the leadership of it), and the Stop the War Coalition (of which Jeremy was the Chair until he stepped down a week after his election as Labour leader). Why duplicate and potentially divide these campaigns? Why defocus from the “once-in-a-lifetime” chance to transform Labour?
In reality, the new movement will initiate and participate in struggles against library closures, the Trade Union Bill and in support of migrants and refugees. But it will also hold voter registration stalls (outside libraries, half of which will be closed by Lambeth Labour’s councils!) and openly recruit to Labour. The two go hand in hand. In the process, we hope that many currently unsure of the merit of joining a party still dominated locally and in Parliament by Blairites and Brownites will become clearer about the new period we are in – and sign up.
Major concerns were raised by those supporting the Labour orientation over democracy inside Momentum. While no one denied the right of Corbyn’s inner circle to take the initiative, there was strong support for democratic local branches with a high degree of campaigning autonomy, a national conference, the election of officers, etc.
In the end, there was consensus for applying to become Lambeth and Southwark Momentum branches, and taking on the task of shaping this new movement from within.
Replying to one comrade’s question about the relationship between Momentum with Red Flag, Red Labour, etc. we said that we saw the need for a united movement based around Jeremy’s election policies, which had already aroused hundreds of thousands to political activity, and the fullest democracy within that movement. That must mean the right of tendencies to work inside Momentum, as Red Flag intends to, while offering a revolutionary perspective based concretely on the lessons of recent struggles, like the pensions strike and the Syriza government in Greece.
The meeting was extremely democratically run, while decisive and clear in taking basic steps forward. We will focus on the libraries and voter registration stalls on Momentum’s national day of action on 24 October, while supporting the Dover-Calais migrant solidarity demos and the 2 November mobilisation against the Trade Union Bill
Red Flag supporters made a number of contributions, which were well received – as were the vast majority of speakers. Most people readily took copies of the Red Flag bulletin after the meeting or in the pub, where political discussions continued. All in all, a very promising start.