What is a social movement?

And is Momentum the leading grouping behind Jeremy Corbyn a social movement or something else?

Stephen Lambert makes some interesting points here about the nature of social movements, splitting them into pre and post-Sixties types; which I think is quite useful in understanding them.

I’ve also been thinking about social movements because of of the slightly strange and sad looking attempts by the Liberal Democrats to harness the feelings of upset Remain campaigners using modern buzzwords such as crowdfunding to funnel broadly centrist and progressively minded middle and upper class people into the Libdems via More United.

It has to be said the latter example chaired as it is by Lord Paddy Ashdown looks more like an example of astroturfing as often more commonly used by the right.

My own feeling is that Corbynism and Momentum do not as of yet constitute a meaningful social movement, instead it is a temporary concrete expression of a widely felt malaise within social democracy to navigate a way through the slow collapse of liberal democracy and neo-liberalism in Europe and further afield.

This is similar to the mirror phemonanon of working class “ex-Labour” “redkipping” and voting for Brexit. People who have traditionally benefited from social democracy and identified with it or at least its practical expressions (Labour, trade unions, the Coop, social clubs, the NHS etc) not feeling any tangible benefits from what has been recently packaged under that brand as social democracy has appeared to embrace neo-liberalism.

Neither expression yet forms a social movement as defined by Stephen Lambert above in my opinion, however they could form the basis for one – if real organising work is done among them.

The real question is who do we want to see providing that organisation?

It goes without saying that I don’t want to see the right organising either group – however I have my suspicions about the ability or willingness of the current leadership of Momentum to provide effective organisation of their group in a way that will help us see a transformative Labour government any time soon. And they certainly are not in a position to even understand Redkippers (although they may be in a slightly better position that Owen Smith) let alone help them organise around progressive class based demands.

I think given the current mess in the Labour party the onus is on those of us active in the wider Labour Movement (the unions, the Coop Party, etc) to provide opportunities for people from both the constituencies above to engage in meaningful political activity around immediate self identified demands.

That would involve something a bit like the Locality programme implemented by the 2010 government. Identify key geographical areas (the North East, the South East, and the Midlands for example) and carry out a mass active listening campaign based around 1 to 1 conversations with people we identify as leaders in their community. This would be a prelude to then providing the training and support needed to start organising effectively around the most widely, deeply felt, and winnable needs.

We already have plenty of unions familiar with organising model, and could work with Citizens UK, ACORN,  and Hope Not Hate among others depending on the area.

This would take a huge investment from unions and others (including crowdfunding) in time and money – but there are no short cuts to building a real social movement that is capable of winning power to bring about transformative social change.



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