No short cuts

Should Jeremy Corbyn stand as an independent in Islington North? Should socialists stand candidates against Labour generally and against Keir Starmer specifically? Should socialists be calling for a new workers’ party? If so, what sort of party?

None of these questions can be answered without first answering the questions that all socialists have to consider. What is our aim as socialists? How do we achieve it? I have attempted to answer these questions in my previous article What is Socialism? 

Capitalism is incapable of solving any of the multiple crises facing humanity – economic crisis, with growing inequality, wars, and climate catastrophe. These are all the product of capitalism. 

The ultimate goal of socialists has to be the creation of a new, socialist world, in which capitalism has been abolished, classes and inequality have disappeared, in which there is no state and all of the world’s resources are held in common and planned for the needs of all. 

How do we achieve this? By building mass socialist parties across the world which emblazon this aim on their banners, clearly setting it out in their party programmes and persuading all sections of the working class of the necessity and possibility of transforming society in their own interests.

If we always have the ultimate goal firmly in mind, along with the strategic objective of building mass socialist parties, then dealing with episodic developments can be considered in terms of how they help or hinder. All tactical considerations of the socialist movement should be subordinated to the overarching objective of sweeping away the private ownership of the means of production, i.e. capitalism. 

Our aim is socialism, or communism, [I use the terms interchangeably] as Marx and Engels argued. This does not mean a ‘mixed economy’ in which there is partial nationalisation, with the rest of the economy in private hands, and with the undemocratic state left in place to act in the interests of the present ruling class. Nor does it mean the ‘communism’ we saw in the former Soviet Union and similar states, or in China today. These were a Stalinised perversion of communism/socialism, in which the working class had no say in what was done, or how. China is, in my opinion, a capitalist economy, regardless of the name of the ruling party.

How does any of this help us to answer the questions at the head of this article? I argue that it puts things into the necessary perspective. 

Should Corbyn stand?

The decision of the Labour Party’s National Executive Committee to prevent Jeremy Corbyn from standing as a parliamentary candidate for Labour is one more example of the trampling of members’ democratic rights by Starmer and his right-wing allies who now control the party. It is also indicative of a determination and ruthlessness to act against the left in a way that was unfortunately completely absent from Corbyn and his advisors when they were in control. Corbyn is the architect of his own predicament. He missed the chance to sweep out the right, and they are now using his failure to sweep out the left, suspending and expelling individual members, imposing selection short-lists, and banning socialist groups. The right, acting in the interests of big business, wants to ensure that nothing like the left-wing resurgence under Corbyn can happen again.

All socialists and democrats, inside and outside of the Labour Party, should rally to defend Corbyn against his exclusion and demand that the decision be overturned, allowing the local LP members in Islington North to choose who they want.

From comments Corbyn has made, it looks like he will stand as an independent candidate against the ‘official’ imposed Labour candidate. No doubt he will stand on the basis of the 2017 and 2019 party manifestos. It seems that he will follow the approach of Ken Livingstone, who successfully stood as an independent candidate for Mayor of London in 2000 and was later readmitted into the party by then leader Tony Blair. He was re-elected as London Mayor in 2004, this time as the Labour candidate. 

If this is correct, it means that Corbyn is not at all interested in setting up a new party. He will advise his supporters inside the Labour Party not to say or do anything to jeopardise their membership, i.e. not to back him publicly.  He will seek to use his popularity outside the Labour Party to draw in masses of canvassers into Islington North. 

Those supporters are now being encouraged to join his Peace and Justice Project. This is not a project for a new party. It is a limited company, with Corbyn and Baroness Christine Blower as directors.  It is a project to maintain Corbyn’s public and international profile and to get him back into parliament. Its website is called It has appointed ‘Patrons’. Its members have no say over what is done. It appears to be little more than a Jeremy Corbyn fan club. This is not what we need.

More importantly, it shows that the hundreds of thousands who are looking to Corbyn as some sort of springboard to a new party will be sorely disappointed. Corbyn is politically and personally wedded to the Labour Party in the same way as Tony Benn was. If Corbyn is returned to parliament in Islington North, what will happen to his supporters outside of the Labour Party? Will they re-join? Will they be allowed to? Would they want to?

The building of a new socialist party cannot be based on the personal plight of one person, even someone as popular as Jeremy Corby. The issue is much bigger than whether Corbyn gets back into parliament or not. Whether he stands or not, whether he wins or not, are not the decisive questions. The key question is whether we can win more people to support a fundamental socialist programme to challenge capitalism, rather than the reformism of Corbyn and the two manifestos, which aim only to win some concessions without changing the system. Where possible, Marxists should be involved in campaigns to defend Corbyn, but make the arguments about the limitations of his project and programme.

New party?

There is a widespread call from Corbyn supporters who have left the Labour Party to set up a new party. Sometimes this is more specifically a call for a new workers’ party. This is supported by a section of Marxists. The shared approach is to call on the unions to break from Labour and to form a new party, which will draw into it the best, most militant sections of the working class. In this way, they aim to repeat the process that led to the formation of the Labour Party in 1900. That is the problem. It would recreate a party based on a liberal, reformist programme in which Marxists are the minority. 

The majority of those calling for a new party do so on the basis of the 2017 and 2019 manifestos, which I argue are completely inadequate. They are not socialist programmes. They are programmes for implementing reforms within capitalism. Some Marxists argue that a full socialist programme can be won in the process of the new party’s formation and are putting out a call for union organisations to support a conference to discuss the proposal.

However, there is no prospect of any union disaffiliating from the Labour Party in the near future, notwithstanding any opposition that they may have to Starmer’s leadership. The unions’ leaderships are waiting and hoping for a Labour victory at the next general election, expecting some gains to be obtained. They are not going to break now. Nor are they going to risk disaffiliation by backing Corbyn in Islington North.

If Labour wins the next general election there will inevitably be clashes between the unions and the Labour government, as Labour will act in the interests of capitalism. Minor concessions may be made but battles over pay, conditions, and broader social and political issues will develop. So long as the unions are affiliated to Labour, these battles will, once again, find some expression within the Labour Party. That is why it is wrong to suggest that Labour is dead. It will remain a site of political and ideological struggle so long as the unions are affiliated and has the electoral support of large sections of the working class. The unions and individual socialists should not abandon the field of battle prematurely, particularly if there is no political alternative to join. They must take the fight to Starmer.

Those socialists who remain inside the Labour Party have to organise to fight for socialist policies and democracy. Staying in, doing nothing, and waiting for a change in the weather is not enough. This requires a new organisation or movement of Labour Party members. Momentum has demonstrated its complete incapacity to give a lead on any of the important issues.

Transform the unions

I query the approach that places the creation of a new party based on the trade unions. Of course, trade unions are vital working-class organisations. All socialists should, where possible, be members of a union. But we are faced with the substantial obstacle to socialist change in the form of the union bureaucracy, whether of the right or the left. 

With a few notable exceptions the trade union bureaucracies have narrow outlooks, looking at industrial issues from the limited perspective of their own union, rather than the interest of the working class as a whole. Thus we have the deplorable position of the 2022 TUC Congress passing a motion proposed by the GMB which called for greater state expenditure on arms production. The motion was only narrowly carried, but it was carried with the support of Unite (my own union), which is generally perceived as being on the left.

We need a revolution within the unions to democratise the union structures, making full-time officials and elected representatives at all levels more representative, accountable and recallable. Officials should be on the average wage of those they represent. To call on the unions as they now stand to set up a new party is simply to ask for the perennial problems within the Labour Party to be repeated in a new organisation. It should be remembered that at the 2018 Labour Party conference only the Fire Brigades Union and the Bakers’ union supported the call for open selection. Len McLuskey and Unite supported Corbyn’s call for this to be opposed and for a more ineffective and limited trigger process to be adopted instead, with Howard Beckett speaking in support from the floor.

From small beginnings

We need a new mass socialist party. This cannot be conjured out of thin air. It has to be built patiently, but urgently. It will be started by those who are convinced of this strategy, and this will inevitably involve small numbers at first. 

Any new socialist party must be completely democratic and be committed to a clear socialist programme. It would work to win recruits from the trade unions, including from the union leaderships but it could not hand a power of veto over policy to union leaders who might undemocratically use their power to thwart or undermine the party’s socialist programme. In essence, any new party based on the trade unions, rather than on individual socialist trade union members, would simply repeat all the problems over democratic control of the programme that we have seen over 120 years of the Labour Party.

If a new left-wing party were formed by Corbyn supporters then Marxists would have to engage with it, to try to influence its membership and its programme, pushing it further and further towards a clear position of breaking with capitalism.

Where does this leave us in terms of upcoming elections? Those in Labour will support Labour candidates. Privately they may vote for more left-wing socialist candidates. Those outside of Labour may look to see who is to the left of Starmers’ candidates. However, the present pick-and-mix approach of TUSC and others is a strategy without any serious purpose. A serious purpose can only be the formation of a genuine, democratic socialist party. 

Insofar as any electoral challenge is based on a clear socialist programme and is part of a strategic objective of building a new clearly defined socialist party, this would clearly be a positive step in winning workers and young people to a worthwhile project, even if small and relatively weak to start. Standing candidates in elections would be an essential part of building a socialist party. But without that party-building purpose, standing candidates to obtain small electoral votes is guaranteed to demoralise rather than to inspire.

For all the reasons set out above I am also of the opinion that the campaign to find a candidate to stand against Starmer in his own constituency is not a serious way forward. The main questions remain: what is the programme on which that candidate would stand? Who will articulate it? How does it fit into the campaign for socialists to work together on a clear socialist programme. It can’t just be about giving Starmer a dig in the ribs.

Where does this leave Marxists? We should organise as Marxists. We should present our ideas in as many different arenas as possible. For the next period this will primarily be outside of the Labour Party, but we must not ignore it. We should engage in all struggles of the working class to raise the ideas of socialism/communism. We should work together with others on the left who do not agree with our full socialist programme to build campaigns and to advance specific aims and, in doing so, seek to persuade them of the need for a fundamental break with capitalism.

There are several Marxist groups in the UK at present. But they all work separately from one another. There are in addition many thousands, I would estimate, of Marxists who are not in any organisation at this time. We need to find a way to draw those ‘independent’ Marxists together to discuss the possibility of working in a more coherent and organised way. We need to raise the possibility of all Marxists, including the groups, of coming together to create a single, unified socialist/communist party, akin to the formation of the Communist Party of Great Britain in 1920. 

That would be a huge step forward. If you want to get involved, please contact us.

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4 thoughts on “No short cuts

  1. I totally agree with most of your post. I think JC is a dangling carrot that will only give us a stick, I liked his policies but what happened was very off. And has enabled what we have now. Pacifism is allowing the death of the old and poor and the end of state protections for poor disabled low paid working classes and old, who can’t work in the capitalist imperialist demand climate. I would be nervous about full communism as we might get a shyster as its leader who turns its tables . I’m more inclined to communistic ideas implemented with a socialist democracy or peoples assemblies including people of all kinds even autistics like me. I can see the problems and I know the solves. But my god is this country in a mess. And peoples ignorances and attitudes and selfishness. Mostly through brainwash, cyber warfare psyops and propaganda. It’s language needs to be direct and accessible to all people and workers not just to uni corporatists which I found with communism) we need a society based on need not greed and what’s beneficial to the planet and nature and a ban of tat such as the royal plastic flags snd paper cups etc , reusable recycling etc and repairing should be worth while, waste avoided unless it’s off. Even socialists discriminate on Autistics and the disabled am sick of being gas lit in cruel ways and trolled and FB gagging my truth.. the press need sorted too it’s rotten cia and nato type orgs disbanded war stopped its toxic. Charity banned and representatives for what was those charities by real people not bought and gagged Tory supporting people.
    We need real change everywhere. I backed Corbyn because he was a step in the right direction.. but he never defended himself or his members. That hurt.
    If the socialists in the LP wanted change they’d of quit the party same with unionists who often fight for the boss not the workers. We all need voices not silenced cos we speak truths that the ignorant don’t care to hear.

  2. ​​I agree it is important at each point to ask ourselves the questions you pose – the need for a socialist party and programme, and how to keep that at the forefront of our minds as we intervene in, and navigate, the labour movement. How do our interventions serve the class? How do they enable us to raise our programme? These are the prisms through which we should plot our priorities, both to avoid becoming foot soldiers for left social democracy and to make sure that we’re not just an abstract group shouting instructions from the outside.

    I am not convinced of the usefulness of spending much time looking at Corbyn’s next move and how we should relate to it. For Marxists looking to build a socialist force, I am not sure that Corbyn represents anything significant right now. Following the General Election defeat and the decisive & ruthless move by the right to expel, marginalise and silence socialists, and shut down debate in the Party, I feel that Corbyn’s residual base still in the Party amounts to not much more than the worst elements of Momentum, outwardly hostile to genuine socialists (and with some still wielding significant power in local government, not obviously in the interests of the class). It is, in my opinion, a complete waste of time and energy to think about any kind of orientation to these people other than to expose them as the charlatans that they are.

    I do think it is right, though, to consider the people who were mobilised by Corbyn in huge numbers into the Party under his leadership, but who are now scattered to the winds, politically homeless and probably rudderless. Can he still mobilise them? I am of the view that the answer to this question is a firm ‘no’. Most people recognise that he lacks the combative leadership qualities needed to stand up to the power that the establishment can and does wield. Mick Lynch’s ability to handle the press and Tory MP’s with confidence, clarity and alacrity has made this shortcoming of Corbyn’s even more apparent. I do think that the failure of Stop The War to mobilise effectively for their recent demonstration on Ukraine was also a reflection on Corbyn. Stop The War’s strategy in the last period was very much shaped around Corbyn and his base, and their campaign against NATO’s proxy war has been enervated and lacking direction as a result. The strategy has proved to be something of a rabbit hole, judging by the numbers at the demonstration on 25th February.

    I find your formulation on how Corbyn is likely to stand against Labour very illuminating. I agree that even if he were to stand against Labour in the General Election, he would not really be challenging the Party other than to espouse the mild 2017/19 manifestos which most Party members (and MPs if they were honest with themselves) would support. If he were successful in the election, he would be consciously positioning himself to leave the door open to a return not just to the Party but also to the same political outlook that left us screwed in 2019.

    If Corbyn was serious not just about winning at the General Election but also presenting the alternative that people around the country are crying out for, then he would force a by-election now. A by-election would prick the attention of the country, mobilise thousands of activists, and maximise his chances at the General Election. More importantly, with this move Corbyn could turn the by-election into a referendum on the NHS, and single-handedly transform the debate about its future, with a profound and far reaching impact whilst undermining both the Tories and Streeting. Of course, the war would be the second issue on which to run in a by-election. Without a decisive move like this now, I would not put my money on him defeating the Labour candidate in the General Election!

    The tasks for socialists flow from consideration of the key questions facing the labour movement right now. The militancy of the NHS workers, and the widespread public support that they command, endangered by the corrupt and cowardly leadership they are having to confront: this requires an orientation from us. If Corbyn can help, then ‘yay!’ – great. Though the key question here is whether the striking and campaigning activists around the country look to Corbyn for a political solution that could shift the balance of power in their favour? I very much doubt it.

    Similarly with the war in Ukraine, which poses such huge dangers for the class: we need an active mobilised campaign. If Corbyn can help with that, then ‘yay!’ – great.

    Our orientation to Corbyn and his base has to start from where we are, what the priorities are for the class, and how we should orient and talk to the militant activists engaged in the fight. Can Corbyn help? Can we push him and show his base how to fight? We have to make sure our project is on track, even if the answers to those questions prove to be negative.

  3. I agree with Nick’s analysis – as far as it goes, but it misses a vital component of the Marxist politics to which I subscribe. And that’s the question of how the revolutionary socialist party of the working class can be built. The answer lies in the linking of socialist ideas with the economic struggles which workers are perforce compelled to undertake against the capitalist bosses.
    That’s for a number of reasons:
    1. We know that when people engage in collective struggle, that’s when the divisions holding us back can start to be overcome; when our old ideas ( what Marx called ‘the muck of ages’ ) can start to change; and when we can glimpse the unconquerable power which we as a class can possess, if we are united
    2. Our potential power resides in the fact that it is we who produce all the goods and services which are needed by people; we have the means therefore to bring the wheels of capitalist production-for-profit to a halt. Leaders of our movement have expressed this in various ways. Rosa Luxemburg for instance: ‘Where the chains of exploitation are forged, there they must be broken’.
    This orientation is specially important when you consider the potential of the current revival of class struggle in the workplace, as well as the control with which the trade union bureaucracies are nevertheless able to keep it in check.
    That’s why Counterfire, of which I am a member, is behind the Rank and File Organising Conference planned for Saturday 10. June in London, and I invite readers to find out more via this link:
    I’m looking forward to tonight’s meeting, and great credit to Nick for launching this programme of crucially important discussions.

    1. Hi Richard, Thank you for your comments.

      You can’t get everything into one article.

      I agree in general with the approach you outline. The role of Marxists is to help workers to draw socialist conclusions from their experiences. These are at work, but also in every aspect of working-class life, from wages and conditions to police brutality, racism, corruption in politics, etc.

      With a genuine socialist party, one that seeks to draw all the necessary conclusions from the present conditions to replace the current rotten system, we would have been able to develop mass movements against, for example, the expenses scandal in parliament, or the racism and misogyny in the police. A mass socialist party would be to the fore in the campaign to confront climate catastrophe. All these have their roots in the economic system of capitalism, but they are not limited to issues in the workplace.

      Unfortunately, most of our trade union leaders are not able, because of their limited, reformist politics, to lead the necessary battles on pay and conditions.

      Their political counterparts in the Parliamentary Labour Party and in Labour councils are just as bad, if not worse.

      That is why we need to build support for the ideas of genuine communism; the ideas of Marxism, as developed by Marx and Engels.

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