I'm not a member of Momentum, but I do think it's vital for Labour's continued health. It has helped mobilise a new layer of activists around matters not confined to the party leadership. But, for sure, its existence certainly helped resist this summer's failed putsch and played its part in ensuring Jeremy Corbyn was reaffirmed by a country mile. People entirely new to politics have got involved and are slowly, steadily integrating into the timetable and rhythms of party activity without being stultified by it. There are future MPs, cabinet members, and perhaps even a Prime Minister who've joined Momentum. In short, the organisation is integral to the Corbyn project of opening the Labour Party up to the people we were set up to represent, and drawing in the rising layer of networked working class people. Momentum is in the process of becoming a conduit between the party and the ceaseless budding of grassroots mobilisations that often times bypass the labour movement, its promise working toward combining power politics with the sweep and breadth of a movement of movements. What happens here matters.
The present dispute is ostensibly caught up in constitutional matters, of whether Momentum's steering committee, formally a sub-committee of the National Committee, has the right to cancel the latter's meetings, and the meeting that decided this was called with 19 hours notice. Not great as it reminds one more of the kind of shenanigans the party's NEC has long been accustomed to than the straight talking, honest politics of Corbynism. While wrong and a touch shabby, the dispute has opened up two visions of the way forward.
The first is traditional organisation. Momentum groups should elect delegates and send them to national conference to steer policy and determine objectives. The alternative, as set out by Christine Shawcroft, is to try and build an electronic infrastructure that allows for the participation of all members. A noble reason, but perhaps not the real reason. Worth noting here is that local campaign groups, where they exist, can easily come under the control of unrepresentative cliques. The Alliance for Workers' Liberty and sundry sectarians spring to mind, seeing as their presence has been a focus of recent media attention. Yet as annoying, out-of-place, and out-of-step they are with what Momentum could be, much worse are careerists and opportunists riding the bandwagon. There is very little to be gained and everything to lose by empowering them.
The second point is that Corbyn's original campaign married the movement networks of the Labour left with huge numbers mobilised via social media. Momentum already has considerable experience with this method of organising and, crucially, many thousands got their first taste of participating in politics this way. It's messy and might not work, but it's worth experimenting with. After all, local groups as foci of activity aren't about to be abolished - rather decision making will be dispersed across networks. Members in the middle of nowhere will have as much chance to input as those crowded in the big cities. It aligns with the networked sensibilities of the activists already drawn into Momentum's orbit, of their habits of doing and thinking about politics - a culture that sits at odds with the delegate model.
As the former approach hasn't got the left very far in recent years, why not give something new a try?