Where now for the left?

The Labour Party has never been a socialist party.

A socialist party would stand for the abolition of capitalism, a system based on the exploitation of the working class for profit. It would stand for the establishment of a completely new system, one based on the common ownership of society’s resources, with production planned democratically for the needs of all.

The Labour Party has always been a mixture of, on the one hand, a primarily working-class and trade union membership, with millions of working-class voters, and, on the other, a pro-business programme (one which always leaves the capitalists in control) and leadership (that never seriously challenges the rule of big business) – a ‘capitalist workers party’. Over time, it has swung more one way, and then another.

Even at times when it has had the most left-wing leaders, Labour has never fully committed itself to socialist policies. In power, even in 1945, it has failed to fundamentally challenge the rule of big business

This was also the case under Jeremy Corbyn.

Corbyn’s policies did not challenge the capitalist system. They were a form of left-wing reformism (not even as radical as former variants such as the Alternative Economic Strategy of the 1970s and 1980s), framed to be achieved without seeking to abolish capitalism. Big business would remain in control of the economy. The exploitation of the working class would continue.

As leader Corbyn wasted a huge opportunity to change the Labour Party and to remove the pro-business right-wing MPs and their supporters. Instead, he promoted them, kept them in his Shadow Cabinet, and sought to appease them over their fabricated charges of widespread anti-semitism.

Corbyn had the overwhelming backing of the Labour Party membership, which grew by 300,000 under his leadership. Instead of relying on them to defeat the right, he did everything to avoid a showdown with the right, which continued to undermine him. They used his vacillation to defeat him.

He should have backed open selection and encouraged the members to deselect right-wing MPs and councillors. He feared the right might split. That would have been a huge step forward. We would have been rid of the traitors and saboteurs. Corbyn might have led a minority party in parliament, but he would have rallied even more members to the party, ensuring that more left-wing socialist candidates were selected and elected at a future General Election. Labour could have been pushed further and further to the left, adopting more clear socialist policies.

Of course, Corbyn was vilified, smeared and undermined. But what did anyone seriously expect? The enthusiastic support for Corbyn and his rather left-wing agenda frightened big business. They couldn’t risk Corbyn becoming Prime Minister and being pushed further to the left by the ranks of a working class behind him demanding more.

Corbyn and his advisors, along with the Socialist Campaign Group in the Parliamentary Labour Party, did what the left of the Labour Party has always done. They compromised. Or, to put it another way, they capitulated. Instead of facing down the threats of the right-wing, he stepped back himself.

He accepted the false argument that the Labour Party should remain a ‘broad party’, a party with ‘two wings’. What that really means is that it has a working class wing, which is drawn towards the arguments of socialism and fundamental change, and which supports working-class struggle, and it has a right-wing, which is pro-business, pro-war and anti-working-class.

By accepting this, he guaranteed his own downfall, and the disappointment of millions of his supporters, inside and outside the party.

The main objective for the left under Corbyn’s leadership should have been to clear out the right and make Labour a democratic working-class socialist party, where a serious debate about what socialist programme to adopt could take place.

Instead, we now have Starmer and the right firmly in control, opposing strikes and picket lines and enthusiastically endorsing war. The left has been routed. 200,00 members have left, dispersed, dejected and demoralised. Starmer has declared, undemocratically, that Jeremy Corbyn will never be a candidate for Labour again.

This will disappoint and enrage Corbyn’s supporters. But this is not about just one person. It raises the question of what we do next. Can the socialist left rely on the Socialist Campaign Group of MPs, who removed their signatures from an anti-war statement; who have failed to challenge Starmer; and who have remained silent over his decision to block their friend and ally Jeremy Corbyn?

There’s lots of talk now about a new party. But what sort of party? What would it stand for?

Socialists, both outside the Labour Party and inside, need to come together to discuss what went wrong, and why. What could have been done differently? More importantly, we need to discuss what policies we want to organise around. We should not repeat the mistakes of Jeremy Corbyn and the inadequate programme of Corbynism.

Do we want to organise and fight for the end of this exploitative capitalist system, which sees growing inequality; increased poverty; which is destroying lives and the planet, while making a few billionaires even more obscenely rich?

And do we want to fight for a new world based on common ownership, with production for the needs of all, putting an end to poverty, exploitation, war, and ensuring the protection of the environment, for the sake of the present and future generations?

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3 thoughts on “Where now for the left?

  1. I think many have come round to the view that we are wasting our time wailing over the corpse although it is of course important to be clear about where it went wrong and your excellent and succinct summary does that. The left has to act now in my view and the object would be to deprive Starmer if the swingeing majority that he is being predicted to get – by default The most imaginative approach I have heard has come from Ken Loach, speaking in an appearance on the Not the Andrew Marr Show. His proposal put simply is a network of independent Socialist candidates standing on Corbyn’s 2017 and 2019 manifesto policies. We know that at local level independent council candidates have bothered Labour, particularly in the North West. At the moment as you observe there are around 200,000 ex Labour supporters floating around. They have gone down various rabbit-holes like the Workers Party, the Greens, Breakthrough and the various manifestations of “socialist” parties, some of which are in fact communist. None of them talk ro one another, and happily operate in their own silos. None of those with an aspiration to do so have a hope in hell of gaining parliamentary representation in a General Election. George Galloway was for example unsuccessful in Batley and Spen despite one if the most awful ruling partys in living memory, whilstTUSC has been unsuccessful at getting local candidates elected. PAL, the other “umbrella” type organisation on the left incorporates the political joke that is the Northern Independence Party, and has consigned TUSC into the outer darkness because it gave the Workers Party “observer” status on its Steering Group. So its all a bit of a shambles really, added to which those groups on what might be termed the Marxist/ Leninist left, whilst unfailingly accurate in their political analysis unfortunately indulge themselves in rhetoric that would be a liability for any endeavour trying to build an alternative to Labour, operating as it would be in an environment dominated by a mainstream media that has spoonfed the electorate a diet of neo-liberal pap for the last forty years. Against that sort of background I think Ken’s suggestion is the way forward, but whether the UK “left” in its various ideological forms is capable of coming together to make it happen us another matter!!

  2. Agree with the outline of how Corbyn led the left and his supporters up a blind alley to defeat, and it’s also correct to point to the only possible alternative course: namely to have turned his massive rank and file support into a bare knuckle fight against the right wing.
    But in the Labour Party, the power base of the right wing is first and foremost the MPs of the Parliamentary Labour Party, and to a lesser extent sections of the salaried trade union bureaucracy.
    Both of these are groups whose material interests are well served by the maintenance of capitalism and it is this which, from a Marxist perspective, fully accounts for their conservative and reactionary politics.
    There is however one missing piece in the jigsaw which Nick has put together: why is it that Corbyn, just like all of his ‘left’ Labour predecessors, was so effectively shackled by his inner party enemies and so unable to break free?
    The answer lies in the nature of ‘socialism from above’, or the politics of ‘parliamentary socialism’ as Hal Draper and Ralph Miliband respectively described Labourism.
    So long as one is wedded to the belief that parliament is potentially the vehicle for securing socialist transformation, the winning of electoral votes has to be one’s overriding objective. And to achieve that objective one must ensure that the party is ‘united’. This is why, rather than excoriating Tom Watson, Corbyn must try to maintain a facade of standing shoulder to shoulder with him.
    And rather than subjecting Margaret Hodge to party discipline for calling the elected leader a ‘fucking antisemite’, you must continue as though you hadn’t heard.
    Your seeming political ally Diane Abbott correctly states ‘Divided parties don’t win elections’. At the end of that sentence, your submission to the right wing is signed and sealed.

  3. My experience canvassing for 2019 was that voters were not hostile to the policies of the manifesto, as such, but rather had little confidence in Corbyn’s ability to deliver them. The endless concessions and capitulations to the right-wing, whether it was on bogus accusations of anti-semitism, on the second referendum, or on mandatory re-selection, left him looking pathetic and weak to the electorate.

    Instead, Corbyn could have mobilised the membership of the Party and beyond against the right of the PLP … in straightforward defiance of the witch-hunt, and to push through re-selection of MPs … and including on the streets. That might have emboldened the new membership, started to heal the undoubted lack of trust felt by elements of the wider working class, and kick-started earlier the dynamic of combative class struggle that we have since seen develop but in a vacuum of political leadership and without a political voice. (Bar the excellent Lynch, of course.) Instead, Corbyn’s brand of Labourism emboldened and encouraged the right of the PLP, and left many voters perceiving his leadership as representing a radicalising middle-class, London-centric liberalism that was not to be trusted.

    Of course, it wasn’t just about Corbyn. Where to start, on the influence and practices of the Stalinist apparatchiks around him, and of the hopelessly undemocratic, top-down and politically pathetic Momentum?

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