Try Red Pepper in print with our pay-as-you-feel subscription. You decide the price, from as low as £2 a month.

More info ×

What is Momentum?

James Schneider, Emma Rees and Adam Klug explain what Momentum is and how it is organising collectively to transform society

October 29, 2016
9 min read

canterburyChange 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.

What is Momentum?

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.

What is the future?

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

Red Pepper is an independent, non-profit magazine that puts left politics and culture at the heart of its stories. We think publications should embrace the values of a movement that is unafraid to take a stand, radical yet not dogmatic, and focus on amplifying the voices of the people and activists that make up our movement. If you think so too, please support Red Pepper in continuing our work by becoming a subscriber today.
Why not try our new pay as you feel subscription? You decide how much to pay.
Share this article  
  share on facebook     share on twitter  

Michael Cashman: Commander of the Blairite Empire
Lord Cashman, a candidate in Labour’s internal elections, claims to stand for Labour’s grassroots members. He is a phony, writes Cathy Cole

Contribute to Conter – the new cross-party platform linking Scottish socialists
Jonathan Rimmer, editor of Conter, says it’s time for a new non-sectarian space for Scottish anti-capitalists and invites you to take part

Editorial: Empire will eat itself
Ashish Ghadiali introduces the June/July issue of Red Pepper

Eddie Chambers: Black artists and the DIY aesthetic
Eddie Chambers, artist and art historian, speaks to Ashish Ghadiali about the cultural strategies that he, as founder of the Black Art Group, helped to define in the 1980s

Despite Erdogan, Turkey is still alive
With this year's referendum consolidating President Erdogan’s autocracy in Turkey, Nazim A argues that the way forward for democrats lies in a more radical approach

Red Pepper Race Section: open editorial meeting – 11 August in Leeds
The next open editorial meeting of the Red Pepper Race Section will take place between 3.30-5.30pm, Friday 11th August in Leeds.

Mogg-mentum? Thatcherite die-hard Jacob Rees-Mogg is no man of the people
Adam Peggs says Rees-Mogg is no joke – he is a living embodiment of Britain's repulsive ruling elite

Power to the renters: Turning the tide on our broken housing system
Heather Kennedy, from the Renters Power Project, argues it’s time to reject Thatcher’s dream of a 'property-owning democracy' and build renters' power instead

Your vote can help Corbyn supporters win these vital Labour Party positions
Left candidate Seema Chandwani speaks to Red Pepper ahead of ballot papers going out to all members for a crucial Labour committee

Join the Rolling Resistance to the frackers
Al Wilson invites you to take part in a month of anti-fracking action in Lancashire with Reclaim the Power

The Grenfell public inquiry must listen to the residents who have been ignored for so long
Councils handed housing over to obscure, unaccountable organisations, writes Anna Minton – now we must hear the voices they silenced

India: Modi’s ‘development model’ is built on violence and theft from the poorest
Development in India is at the expense of minorities and the poor, writes Gargi Battacharya

North Korea is just the start of potentially deadly tensions between the US and China
US-China relations have taken on a disturbing new dimension under Donald Trump, writes Dorothy Guerrero

The feminist army leading the fight against ISIS
Dilar Dirik salutes militant women-organised democracy in action in Rojava

France: The colonial republic
The roots of France’s ascendant racism lie as deep as the origins of the French republic itself, argues Yasser Louati

This is why it’s an important time to support Caroline Lucas
A vital voice of dissent in Parliament: Caroline Lucas explains why she is asking for your help

PLP committee elections: it seems like most Labour backbenchers still haven’t learned their lesson
Corbyn is riding high in the polls - so he can face down the secret malcontents among Labour MPs, writes Michael Calderbank

Going from a top BBC job to Tory spin chief should be banned – it’s that simple
This revolving door between the 'impartial' broadcaster and the Conservatives stinks, writes Louis Mendee – we need a different media

I read Gavin Barwell’s ‘marginal seat’ book and it was incredibly awkward
Gavin Barwell was mocked for writing a book called How to Win a Marginal Seat, then losing his. But what does the book itself reveal about Theresa May’s new top adviser? Matt Thompson reads it so you don’t have to

We can defeat this weak Tory government on the pay cap
With the government in chaos, this is our chance to lift the pay cap for everyone, writes Mark Serwotka, general secretary of public service workers’ union PCS

Corbyn supporters surge in Labour’s internal elections
A big rise in left nominations from constituency Labour parties suggests Corbynites are getting better organised, reports Michael Calderbank

Undercover policing – the need for a public inquiry for Scotland
Tilly Gifford, who exposed police efforts to recruit her as a paid informer, calls for the inquiry into undercover policing to extend to Scotland

Becoming a better ally: how to understand intersectionality
Intersectionality can provide the basis of our solidarity in this new age of empire, writes Peninah Wangari-Jones

The myth of the ‘white working class’ stops us seeing the working class as it really is
The right imagines a socially conservative working class while the left pines for the days of mass workplaces. Neither represent today's reality, argues Gargi Bhattacharyya

The government played the public for fools, and lost
The High Court has ruled that the government cannot veto local council investment decisions. This is a victory for local democracy and the BDS movement, and shows what can happen when we stand together, writes War on Want’s Ross Hemingway.

An ‘obscure’ party? I’m amazed at how little people in Britain know about the DUP
After the Tories' deal with the Democratic Unionists, Denis Burke asks why people in Britain weren't a bit more curious about Northern Ireland before now

The Tories’ deal with the DUP is outright bribery – but this government won’t last
Theresa May’s £1.5 billion bung to the DUP is the last nail in the coffin of the austerity myth, writes Louis Mendee

Brexit, Corbyn and beyond
Clarity of analysis can help the left avoid practical traps, argues Paul O'Connell

Paul Mason vs Progress: ‘Decide whether you want to be part of this party’ – full report
Broadcaster and Corbyn supporter Paul Mason tells the Blairites' annual conference some home truths

Contagion: how the crisis spread
Following on from his essay, How Empire Struck Back, Walden Bello speaks to TNI's Nick Buxton about how the financial crisis spread from the USA to Europe


15