Get Red Pepper's email newsletter. Enter your email address to receive our latest articles, updates and news.
Change and disruption is happening across Europe and North America. More and more citizens are rejecting a status quo that doesn’t work for them – and the elites who told them that it would. The breaking down of neoliberal hegemony creates almost unthinkable opportunities, such as Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership in the UK or Syriza coming to power in Greece. But these opportunities face intense efforts to suppress them, as politics once more becomes a contest between the powerful and the rest of us. We saw how the Troika treated Greece and we’ve seen how media attacks and the failed Labour coup have tried to dislodge Corbyn – and most importantly, our ideas.
Yet over the last year, political participation in the UK has soared – Labour is now the largest political party in Europe, with over half a million members – and hope has gathered. Labour, as a mass party, is a vehicle for progressive change, combining a platform to rebuild and transform Britain through public investment in jobs, homes, education, transport and communities with moves to shift ownership and power from the 1%. But every vehicle needs an engine, to provide energy and strength.
Momentum, a grassroots organisation developed out of the Jeremy Corbyn for Labour Leader campaign, exists for this dual purpose: to strengthen and democratise the Labour Party and to expand popular power. Some suggest the two objectives are mutually incompatible; that you can either build a party, or build a movement. To Momentum, that is a false opposition: we do both.
In the spirit of the best Labour traditions and guided by new ways of organising, ours is a diverse, dynamic and creative movement, dedicated to empowering local communities and re-energising politics from the bottom up. Composed of over 150 groups and 17,000 members, Momentum refuses traditional dichotomies – local and national, immediate and long-term – and articulates a new vision of politics and society. Through popular education, support for grassroots activism and a participatory, democratic and inclusive political culture, Momentum aims to engage and empower everyone in society, allowing voices, so far unheard, to break through, and debate, so far suppressed, to emerge.
That’s what we’re doing with The World Transformed: helping people to be heard so they can change the world. Momentum is providing this space for discussion, education and sharing because knowledge is power. Popular education has been a central focus for Momentum but not one driven by the centre. Momentum groups around the country have organised free educational events, designed to elucidate the contemporary moment and empower those looking to change it.
Since forming, Momentum has run several national campaigns. Some, such as the work put into local elections, have helped Labour secure electoral support – with substantial success, as with the Oldham West and Royton by-election in October 2015, where Momentum’s assistance was specifically singled out by winning MP Jim McMahon. Others, such as the ‘Democracy SOS’ voter registration drive, which saw Momentum members all over the country combine to ensure people weren’t lost from the electoral register, or the developing campaign to safeguard the NHS from privatisation, have sought to extend popular power.
In the same spirit, Momentum supports workers engaged in ongoing struggles, as with the junior doctors’ strikes. It has also directly intervened in the direction of government, taking part in the movement against George Osborne’s tax credit cuts that forced a reversal in policy, and providing the means for supporters, anxious about the prospect of further British military action overseas, to lobby their MPs ahead of the vote on military action in Syria.
Each and every campaign has worked locally to achieve national effects, while the energy released in such national campaigns – no more in evidence than in the campaigns for Jeremy Corbyn to be party leader – brings new vigour, new ideas and new activists to local campaigns.
And what new energy the failed coup against Corbyn’s leadership has brought us. Thousands of activists across the country sprang into action to defend the vision of a better society and, more importantly, build the movement for it. In 24 hours, we organised a 10,000-strong rally in Parliament Square on 27 June. This started a series of actions in 35 towns and cities across the country that week. Almost 30,000 people came together, not to hear from big name speakers, but to organise and advance their cause. We saw huge turnouts where one might expect them – London, Liverpool, Manchester – but also remarkable support in places you perhaps wouldn’t, such as Penzance, Lincoln and Ipswich.
Events and campaigns are two very visible aspects of what Momentum does, but they wouldn’t be possible without the constellation of groups across the country and the members and supporters who have built them. It is in these groups, operating on a model of participatory democracy, where discussion, debate and action take place. Local groups decide which national priorities to emphasise, how to apply them and what local campaigns to undertake. Both directly and through regional networks, groups submit proposals and papers to the national committee, providing the direction of the overall organisation. In these spaces, communities can found their own politics, and find their own voice.
The national committee, where key strategic decisions are taken at a national level, works in alliance with local groups and members. Local groups were established long before the committee: evidence of Momentum’s decentralised, democratic nature – the real power must lie at grassroots level. Organising, campaigning, discussing, Momentum’s members and supporters both set the agenda – the current national campaign, for example, was decided by a poll of our supporters about their priorities – and carry out the action. They are Momentum: from all over the country and from a diversity of backgrounds, they unite in a collective desire for a better society.
We are living in a time of great uncertainty and our political, economic and social system is under severe strain. This opening brings unanticipated and dramatic change, as shown in the past two years: a nearly-independent Scotland, the decline of the two-party system, the election of Jeremy Corbyn and the Brexit vote – all barely thinkable a few years ago. New rules are to be written, new maps drawn. The architects of that change can come from above, with the resulting reorganisation made to suit elite interests, or from below, with society transformed in favour of the majority. Momentum is part of a process of popular political mobilisation that, alongside the wide variety of organisations that comprise the Labour movement and beyond, will work to direct this moment to progressive ends.
This won’t be easy. It will require electoral victories for Labour and longer-term building of popular power, in a decentralised culture at once participatory and inclusive. It will require energetic and collaborative pursuit of political goals, both immediate and in the future, that strengthen the Labour Party, help it win elections, and strengthen the labour movement. These are challenges; but they are also opportunities, as the emergence of Momentum demonstrates.
Momentum represents a politics fit for the 21st century, a member-led democratic social movement, embedded in the Labour Party and the labour movement, that simultaneously builds popular power and electoral prospects. It has a politics and a purpose: to transform society so that wealth and power lodges in the many, not the few. We are at a point where politics and society shifts. The moment is open. Let’s take it.
On the ball
Lola May describes one aspect of Momentum’s ‘new kind of politics’
Momentum Football launched on 11 June with a special event organised around England’s first game of Euro 2016, against Russia. A Philosophy Football panel on football and nationalism was accompanied by a special appearance by the shadow chancellor, John McDonnell, as the evening’s ‘alternative pundit’. The event illustrates how Momentum is aiming at a ‘new kind of politics’ that is not simply about meetings, motions and Westminster, but broadens out into people’s lived experience.
For many of us, football (whether playing or supporting) is one of the most important aspects of our lives, and yet, as in society more generally, profit is put before people and deeply entrenched relations of power are perpetuated.
As Momentum Football activist Colin Hendrie explains: ‘There is more to football than the glitz of the Premier League. There are thousands of local clubs across the country where local communities come together to make the grassroots game possible.
‘They do this because they know being involved with football is essentially something good. We see this positive energy as an important force for change.’
Momentum Football seeks to establish a broad alliance of football fans, players, teams and organisations that not only want to make football more inclusive, democratic and fair but also seek to use it as a force for social, political and economic change.
A people‑led manifesto of football will be launched at The World Transformed as part of our panel on ‘Football as a force for social change’ – a project that, as McDonnell suggested at our initial event, could be used ‘to garner Labour support right across the country’.
For more information on Momentum Football please visit our Facebook page and follow us on @momentumftball
The Spanish state is seizing ballot papers and raiding meetings, write Ignasi Bernat and David Whyte – but it is being met with united resistance
The crunch executive meeting ahead of Labour conference agreed some welcome changes, writes Michael Calderbank, but there is still much further to go
Dipesh Pandya speaks to documentary film-maker Sanjay Kak, who for 30 years has been working outside the mainstream to tell a story rooted in the struggles of those excluded by India’s militarism and its narrative of neoliberal growth
Jeremy Gilbert on how radical Labour politics can be inspired by the utopianism of the counterculture
Disasters have unequal impacts – it's the poor and marginalised who suffer most. David Harvey writes on Hurricane Harvey
Survivors of the fire are still relying on thousands of community volunteers, writes Dan Renwick - but the failed council is plotting a comeback
What if it's not us who are sick, asks Rod Tweedy, but a system at odds with who we are as social beings?
The people could reach a democratic and non-violent solution if they were freed from US meddling, argues Boaventura de Sousa Santos
A decade after the start of the crash, economic power is in our hands – we must take it, writes Ann Pettifor
Don’t let Uber take you for a ride
Uber is no friend of passengers or workers, writes Lewis Norton – the firm has put riders at risk and exploited its drivers
Acid Corbynism’s next steps: building a socialist dance culture
Matt Phull and Will Stronge share more thoughts about the postcapitalist potential of the Acid Corbynist project
Flooding the cradle of civilisation: A 12,000 year old town in Kurdistan battles for survival
It’s one of the oldest continually inhabited places on earth, but a new dam has put Hasankeyf under threat, write Eliza Egret and Tom Anderson
New model activism: Putting Labour in office and the people in power
Hilary Wainwright examines how the ‘new politics’ needs to be about both winning electoral power and building transformative power
What is ‘free movement plus’?
A new report proposes an approach that can push back against the tide of anti-immigrant sentiment. Luke Cooper explains
The World Transformed: Red Pepper’s pick of the festival
Red Pepper is proud to be part of organising The World Transformed, in Brighton from 23-26 September. Here are our highlights from the programme
Working class theatre: Save Our Steel takes the stage
A new play inspired by Port Talbot’s ‘Save Our Steel’ campaign asks questions about the working class leaders of today. Adam Johannes talks to co-director Rhiannon White about the project, the people and the politics behind it
The dawn of commons politics
As supporters of the new 'commons politics' win office in a variety of European cities, Stacco Troncoso and Ann Marie Utratel chart where this movement came from – and where it may be going
A very social economist
Hilary Wainwright says the ideas of Robin Murray, who died in June, offer a practical alternative to neoliberalism
Art the Arms Fair: making art not war
Amy Corcoran on organising artistic resistance to the weapons dealers’ London showcase
Beware the automated landlord
Tenants of the automated landlord are effectively paying two rents: one in money, the other in information for data harvesting, writes Desiree Fields
Black Journalism Fund – Open Editorial Meeting
3-5pm Saturday 23rd September at The World Transformed in Brighton
Immigration detention: How the government is breaking its own rules
Detention is being used to punish ex-prisoners all over again, writes Annahita Moradi
A better way to regenerate a community
Gilbert Jassey describes a pioneering project that is bringing migrants and local people together to repopulate a village in rural Spain
Fast food workers stand up for themselves and #McStrike – we’re loving it!
McDonald's workers are striking for the first time ever in Britain, reports Michael Calderbank
Two years of broken promises: how the UK has failed refugees
Stefan Schmid investigates the ways Syrian refugees have been treated since the media spotlight faded
West Papua’s silent genocide
The brutal occupation of West Papua is under-reported - but UK and US corporations are profiting from the violence, write Eliza Egret and Tom Anderson
Activate, the new ‘Tory Momentum’, is 100% astroturf
The Conservatives’ effort at a grassroots youth movement is embarrassingly inept, writes Samantha Stevens
Peer-to-peer production and the partner state
Michel Bauwens and Vasilis Kostakis argue that we need to move to a commons-centric society – with a state fit for the digital age
Imagining a future free of oppression
Writer, artist and organiser Ama Josephine Budge says holding on to our imagination of tomorrow helps create a different understanding today
The ‘alt-right’ is an unstable coalition – with one thing holding it together
Mike Isaacson argues that efforts to define the alt-right are in danger of missing its central component: eugenics
Fighting for Peace: the battles that inspired generations of anti-war campaigners
Now the threat of nuclear war looms nearer again, we share the experience of eighty-year-old activist Ernest Rodker, whose work is displayed at The Imperial War Museum. With Jane Shallice and Jenny Nelson he discussed a recent history of the anti-war movement.
Put public purpose at the heart of government
Victoria Chick stresses the need to restore the public good to economic decision-making
Don’t let the world’s biggest arms fair turn 20
Eliza Egret talks to activists involved in almost two decades of protest against London’s DSEI arms show
The new municipalism is part of a proud radical history
Molly Conisbee reflects on the history of citizens taking collective control of local services
With the rise of Corbyn, is there still a place for the Green Party?
Former Green principal speaker Derek Wall says the party may struggle in the battle for votes, but can still be important in the battle of ideas
Fearless Cities: the new urban movements
A wave of new municipalist movements has been experimenting with how to take – and transform – power in cities large and small. Bertie Russell and Oscar Reyes report on the growing success of radical urban politics around the world
A musical fightback against school arts cuts
Elliot Clay on why his new musical turns the spotlight on the damage austerity has done to arts education, through the story of one school band's battle
Neoliberalism: the break-up tour
Sarah Woods and Andrew Simms ask why, given the trail of destruction it has left, we are still dancing to the neoliberal tune
Cat Smith MP: ‘Jeremy Corbyn has authenticity. You can’t fake that’
Cat Smith, shadow minister for voter engagement and youth affairs and one of the original parliamentary backers of Corbyn’s leadership, speaks to Ashish Ghadiali