The initiatives of generations of women since the early 1970s exemplify the direction of this change and what it could mean in the future. To categorise decades of feminist activities simply as “protest” is to miss out entirely on how feminism has changed the lives of millions of women in the here and now. They have protested and made demands on government, for sure. But what has been decisive is women organising themselves to find collective solutions through mutuality and collaboration – in providing childcare, setting up domestic violence or rape crisis centres, and achieving ch...nges in health provision. These initiatives have subsequently been the basis for leftwing councils using public funds to support this de facto expansion of public services.
In other words, “new politics” is about a lot more than politics in its narrow party-political, parliamentary sense. It opens up a new relationship between electoral politics and the mutuality and solidarity in everyday life, in the community and the workplace. Corbyn has come to represent this opening up of politics in Britain. It is what he has been doing all his life, and this is what young people can sense.
When you turn your gaze from Westminster, there are examples of people taking collective responsibility everywhere
As one Momentum volunteer told me: “Only with Corbyn’s first leadership campaign did the new politics come into the mainstream. I get infuriated when people talk of the new politics as a Jeremy fan club. This isn’t and was never about just one man.”
Momentum From its formation as the Labour representation committee, the Labour party has had a relationship with the solidarity and mutuality of everyday working-class life. But it has always been limited by the commitment of the parliamentary Labour party not simply to parliament, but also to what Ralph Miliband termed “parliamentarism” – the “dogmatic devotion to the parliamentary system” and the rejection of “any kind of political action (such as industrial action for political purposes) beyond the framework and conventions of the parliamentary system”. Underlying this is deference to the moral authority of the British state. To suggest it might lie anywhere else is in effect a challenge to the authority of the state.
In this way, reselection of MPs, the non-parliamentary election of the leader and party conference control over policy all confront the long British tradition of rule from above. Hence the near-hysterical reaction to any challenge, as in recent months when Corbyn has stood firm against the majority will of the PLP.
The new young Labour members and supporters, by contrast, understand the importance of Corbyn’s allegiance to his predominantly extra-parliamentary mandate. To them, this commitment is not simply about democratic formalities: the members voted for him, the MPs can’t force him to resign. Rather, to quote another Momentum volunteer, it’s also about “what Jeremy means when he speaks of ‘people-powered politics’. It’s not good enough for a leader to speak for people, it’s about empowering those people to speak for themselves. In essence, it’s about creating a vehicle for the untapped potential of communities to collectively organise and lead the fightback.”
When you turn your political gaze from Westminster, there are examples of people taking such collective responsibility everywhere, as they apply their creativity to building alternatives on the razed earth of austerity Britain. Momentum will be central in developing this people-powered politics, especially at local level, where its members are involved in a variety of grassroots initiatives.
Its structures and mentality need to be responsive, a resource, and a source of support. On my doorstep, in Hackney Momentum, we try to ensure that our meetings always include a discussion with local campaigns – such as the occupation of empty council houses by Sisters Uncut, seeking to create and get council support for a centre for women facing domestic violence. We discuss with them how Momentum can support them, build their social base and political impact. We focus on this promotion of grassroots solutions alongside political education aimed at the young people enthused by the new politics and canvassing for the Labour party, and opening up local party structures to the creative initiatives around them. Our own institutions are being built to facilitate this dual strategy of reaching outside the Labour party as well as working inside it.
It’s important also not to dismiss the older labour movement institutions. The people who gave so much of their lives to building and sustaining them often have the capacity to transform the content and reach of these institutions too. You can see this process in Barnsley, where Women Against Pit Closures, with the help of the local Unite community branch, have turned the spacious old offices of the Yorkshire miners’ union into a hub of local campaigns and initiatives. In other areas, community activists are using their organising skills to turn old Labour party structures into a resource for militant campaigns.
In all these ways, the crown in parliament is facing a lot more than protest or paper resolutions. This is about creating lasting solutions that both prefigure and prepare for an end to austerity politics, and build the popular self-confidence to elect a Labour-led government.
the crown in parliament “Labour-led” because only a progressive alliance can defeat the Tories in an election. But it cannot concern itself simply with electoral politics. It will need, like Momentum, and like the Radical Independence Campaign in Scotland, to be driven by popular struggle: a people-powered politics.
Radical Independence Campaign in Scotland • Hilary Wainwright is co-editor of Red Pepper
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