The argument that Momentum is a hard-left entryist formation whose aim is to seize control of the Labour Party was advanced most recently by the self-proclaimed ‘socialist’ Owen “Citizen” Smith.1 Such an argument is perhaps a slight improvement on the one which warned that wizened old Trotskyist hands are ‘twisting young arms’ in this leadership contest, but opponents of Jeremy Corbyn simply must do better.2
When one considers that the bulk of MPs and journalists would likely be unable to venture even the baldest definition of capitalism without resorting to doubtful value judgements, the term ‘hard-left’ becomes utterly meaningless. Its sole purpose is to invoke the ghost of Stalin so that anybody who has the temerity to criticise grotesque wealth-concentration (and the like) appears to the general public to be a dangerous extremist.
One look at Momentum’s stated goals — which are never discussed by its critics within the PLP — will reveal that its agenda is social democratic rather than dangerous, extreme or revolutionary. The organisation aims to
Redistribute wealth and power from the few to the many;
Put people and planet before profit and narrow corporate interests;
End discrimination, advantage and privilege based on class;
Target growth not austerity, invest to create tomorrow’s jobs and reverse privatisation of railways, the energy sector and public services.
Provide protection at work and strong collective bargaining to stamp out workplace injustice.
Ensure decent homes for all in public and private sectors through a big house¬building programme and rent controls.
Support workers and their trade unions defending the interests of their members, families and communities.
End discrimination based on race, religion, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, disability or age.3
These goals are shared by Corbyn — who we must remember has the backing of most of the party — and no Labour member or supporter worth his or her salt would object to the pursuit of any single one of them.
On the other hand, members and supporters who refuse to accept Corbyn’s mandate will agree that such goals are all well and good in principle, but try nevertheless to disguise their animus towards the leader’s policy proposals by claiming that they are also ‘unrealistic’, or no more than mere slogans. This is indisputable if one expects state institutions to deliver radical reform from out of nowhere. But of course, ‘power concedes nothing without a demand’, and Momentum’s reason for being is to organise extra-politically so that such demands may be levelled. The fact is that Momentum’s values are ‘Labour values’, and the disunity that is becoming ever more pronounced in the wider party has its origins in the failure of certain members and supporters to stand whole-heartedly behind those values. In light of such a failure, the self-professed progressivism of people who oppose Corbyn from within the party is exposed for what it is: a load of ‘soggy half-baked insincerity’.4
At any rate, Momentum continues to be systematically slandered in the press and misrepresented as the latter-day Militant tendency. Comparisons to Militant are often made in bad faith and are always rather lazy. Paul Mason, the journalist and broadcaster, notes that with 18,000 members, ‘Momentum is four times bigger than the Militant tendency ever was, even at the height of its influence’.5 Momentum also lacks the rigidity and secrecy that defined Militant, which of course had an ‘internal command/control structure and an elected leadership along Bolshevik lines’. (Incidentally, adds Mason, Militant ‘operated like this because that is how the Labour Right operated. It was in some ways a mirror image of the bureaucratic hierarchy it tried to oppose.’) Any fair assessment of Momentum will conclude that the organisation, resembling as it does a genuine grassroots movement for social change, operates openly and independently of the party machinery and is different to Militant in terms of structure, ethos and appeal among the public. By the by, this is why the charge, frequently repeated, that Labour under Corbyn is ‘going back to the Eighties’ does not stick, except in as much as the corporate media is as hostile to him and Momentum now as it was to Foot and Benn three decades ago.
That Corbyn was elected by so overwhelming a margin in the first place was in large part due to the fact that the Labour Party had for decades been lurching to the right. One motor of its movement in this direction was the entryist grouping Progress, an independent organisation of Labour members founded in 1996 by an acolyte of Peter Mandelson’s and having as its purpose the insertion of Blairites into the party and the House of Commons. Since 2001, the main financier of Progress has been the very wealthy businessman Lord Sainsbury of Turville, a fact which once impelled Tristram Hunt MP — himself a vice-chair of Progress — to ‘quip’ in tone-deaf fashion that ‘you might be an unaccountable faction dominated by a secretive billionaire, but you are our unaccountable faction dominated by a secretive billionaire’.6 Although the influence of Progress has seemingly waned with the fall of New Labour — its candidate Liz Kendall received a miserable 4% of the vote in last year’s leadership contest — the damage it has done to the party over the years is clear for all to see. Its manoeuvring hastened the transformation of the PLP into a band of careerists with no connection whatsoever to the labour movement, and its philosophy brought about the alienation of 5 million voters between 1997 and 2010. Those who accuse Momentum of being a ‘party within a party’ would do very well to denounce the infiltration of Labour by Progress, though such a denunciation will not, one expects, be forthcoming from Owen “Normal” Smith (whose ‘brilliant’7 former employer Pfizer donated tens of thousands of pounds to the organisation, albeit just before Smith became Head of Policy and Government Relations).8
Smith’s contention — that Momentum is trying to use Labour as a ‘host body’ — represents the latest tame attempt to delegitimise Corbyn, undermine his leadership and further damage his standing among the general public by implying that the option of (limited) deselection in the present circumstances would be an outrageous if not downright Stalinesque one for him to permit constituency parties to take. But there is another, more sinister dimension to the argument. ‘[T]he manufacture of an “entryism” narrative,’ writes Mason, ‘is being done to bolster the legal battle that would be fought by Labour’s pro-1% wing if it decides to walk away from the party. Its moral claim to the name, premises and bank account would rest on the legal argument that an “alien” force had stolen them.’9 It seems, then, that not even the prospect of another crushing defeat this weekend will deter the desperate Labour Right from trying to subvert democracy for its own self-serving ends.
9. (n 5).