What is Momentum for?

At the thrilling Momentum event in Liverpool, there was a short debate about the purpose of the organisation. An interesting contribution from a member of Podemos followed. The complexity of social movements and their relationships with established institutional structures was addressed without impenetrable discourse being used.

As someone who is not a member of Momentum, I was struck by the openness of the conversations. Despite the presence of a sneering media, these people had the courage to voice their opinions on a range of issues. There were differences of perspective and there were variations over strategy, but the discussion was constructive.

While the interaction was not designed to influence Momentum policy directly, the sharing of experiences from different places was arguably of real importance. It was interesting how nuanced the arguments were and how realism featured in much of the talk. Despite the threats to the existence and reputation of Momentum, it is clear that it is likely to have a degree of resilience.

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Aspiration: branding greed today

The fictional Gordon Gekko simply said “greed is good” and Western neo-liberalism has been linked with the promotion of greed. Victoria Moffatt has discussed the ethos of “private good, public bad.” However, the reality is that neo-liberal discourse has to avoid simple greed promotion if it is to prosper.

It is in this context that we can understand affluent entrepreneurs making philanthropic gestures. They might not want to pay their fair share of taxes, but they do not want to be remembered as greedy.

Nonetheless, it is in the sphere of politics that we can see the cleverest justifications for greed. Greed is an ugly word which clashes with the ideals of many people. Major religions have not always embraced greed. Hence the need for contemporary British politicians to use the language of aspiration. Ambition seems less reprehensible than greed. The dream of a meritocracy does not sound as unpleasant as the reality of class division. We can all dream of “doing better” and what could be greedy about that?

The Cost of Inequality by Stewart Lansley

This engrossing text makes the argument that the levels of economic inequality witnessed in the UK and the USA have had a long-term impact on international economic performance. Further, it maintains that this influence has been negative. This contention is illustrated by three major trends.

Firstly, the growing gap between rich and poor has promoted the rise in the importance of credit. Secondly, the surge in credit has led to an increase in economic instability. Thirdly, the growing wealth of the rich has translated into an economy which prioritises finance over manufacturing, pulling skilled people into sectors which are not short of talented staff.

The argument is quite plausible and there are some positive suggestions about what could have been done after the international economic crisis. However, the environment is largely neglected in the analysis. In addition, Lansley strays towards arbitrariness in his musings on neo-liberalism:

“Personal fortunes that arise from exceptional personal risk-taking, innovation and merit are examples of good inequality. Today, most of the wealth gap is arguably the product of bad inequality.”

George Orwell: A Life by Bernard Crick

This detailed biography received mixed reviews. However, the general picture of George Orwell was generous and of absorbing interest. Orwell had a tough life and sometimes made life hard for himself, so it seems fitting that this biographer had a charitable perspective. Frank Kermode may have been dissatisfied with the treatment of Orwell in that it did not condemn his occasional brutality, but not all biographies have to be negative studies in psychology.

Crick and Orwell shared an affection for democratic socialism. However, Orwell’s views were not consistent. His patriotism and his affection for the past meant that he was prone to bend with the ideological wind. Nevertheless, the great writer composed masterpieces like Homage to Catalonia. Crick may have lacked Orwell’s literary skills, but he included several lengthy quotes from the journalist and author.

The big question raised by the book is the correct attitude to hold towards totalitarian thinking. Is there a difference between harsh regimes of the left and the right? Is it possible to have a totalitarianism of the centre? It seems that the concept of totalitarianism is potentially misleading in that it can lead to McCarthyism. It must be possible to argue for democratic socialism without uniting with reactionary forces. This raises the issue of the media. Orwell understood this dilemma:

“While the journalist exists merely as the publicity agent of big business, a large circulation, got by fair means or foul, is a newspaper’s one and only aim.”

Corbyn: dreams, nightmares and possibilities

The last year has been a messy period in British politics. The people narrowly voted for Brexit, the Prime Minister was compelled to quit, and the Labour Party failed to get behind its leader. Amid the chaos, the polling averages are not a fair way of assessing the performance of Jeremy Corbyn.

The main achievement of Corbyn is that he is still standing. Another victory is that he has introduced more people to socialist ideas. The dream is that an effective social movement can be built from the mass membership of the Labour Party. The hope is that this social movement can gain in popularity and begin to deliver better electoral outcomes.

The nightmare is that the Labour Party could be too incoherent to salvage. Some of its members may refuse to see the hope which Corbyn represents. Their obstinacy could see a divide in the party or a swing back to the politics which led to the Corbyn surge in the first instance. Owen Smith might even win the leadership, throwing the party into a new era of confusion.

Predicting what will happen next is futile. Much may depend on the role of the trade unions. If they back Corbyn and if his team can upgrade their communications then it is possible that tangible improvements can be made. All MPs need to know that on tax credit cuts and police cuts they did what they were elected to do. They can be treated with genuine generosity if they realise their responsibility in time.