The Socialist, paper of the Socialist Party (SP), estimates that Labour may now have more than 700 000 members writes Andy Stowe. There’s no doubt that the party’s membership has increased enormously since Jeremy Corbyn became leader and that the new joiners are people who are attracted to what they see as a positive and radical set of ideas.
Socialist Resistance is encouraging readers of this site in England and Wales to join the Labour Party. Many other smaller currents of the Marxist on the Marxist left are saying the same. As Paul Mason pointed out to Progress an organised right wing group inside Labour (at 3 minutes 20 seconds into this clip), this isn’t new and the party has always contained Marxists.
However, there remain some significant Marxist organisations which, while enthusiastically endorsing Corbyn and trying to identify his politics with theirs, are determined to cut themselves off from at least half a million Labour Party members.
And we have to be cruelly frank. People in the Labour Party really don’t care what a revolutionary organisation, with a national membership almost certainly smaller than their constituency party’s, thinks about anything. It just isn’t possible to influence the politics of Labour at a national or local level if you are not in it.
Let’s look at how three of the most significant far left groups are responding to the change in Labour. There is an eerie similarity in their positions.
The Socialist Workers Party (SWP) is not encouraging its supporters or readers of its paper to join Labour. Instead they predicted a Corbyn betrayal which had to be resisted.
“Politics will not end on 8 June. If there’s a Labour government we will have to keep pushing to make sure Labour keeps its promises—and to go much further.”
RS 21, an organisation established by comrades who left the SWP due to their disgust at its handling of a rape allegation, still share that political framework:
“We still all want to see Corbyn win the next election, shift Labour to the left, begin to change the political dialogue of the country, but for those of us who recognise the limitations of parliamentary politics, it is the self activity of all the forces on our side that is crucial to winning even those limited goals.”
At least the SWP and RS21,while opting to remain outside Labour, don’t tend to offer detailed tactical advice to Labour members. The SP has no such qualms.
“A campaign needs to be immediately launched to transform the Labour Party into a genuinely anti-austerity, democratic party of workers and young people.
This requires the introduction of compulsory reselection contests for MPs. The next general election could be at any time and Labour must not face another election with the majority of its own candidates opposing Jeremy Corbyn.”
And while lacking in qualms, they are not shy about asserting their right to be treated as almost an equal with the Labour party, going on to insist that the party embraces “all genuine socialists in a democratic federation.”
These formulaic positions are all failing to grasp the change that has happened in British politics. Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour Party is now the only mass movement for radical change in Britain. The video clips of the Corbyn White Stripes chant, his reception at Glastonbury, and the youth radicalisation he has inspired are unprecedented. A far left which has sustained itself by setting up front campaigns and keeping its members busy with paper sales is in danger of making itself perhaps terminally irrelevant.
The real fight for socialist ideas now is being fought inside the Labour Party. One part of it is bringing in the demands of housing campaigns, the environmental movement, migrant rights activists and everything else into Labour. Another important aspect is the struggle to change Labour. We need a membership which demands Labour councillors and MPs resist austerity rather than managing it. We will need new councillors and MPs who stand for the same things as Jeremy Corbyn, Diane Abbott and John McDonnell. For this to happen there has to be a Labour Party membership which supports them and campaigns for them. You can be part of that only if you are inside the Labour Party.
And the far left needs to be both modest and self aware. The new Labour Party members have no patience for underhand entry tactics and some weird notion of democratic centralism which requires people to all vote the same way and make exactly the same points. These are people who are often politically confident and always independently minded. They will work with anyone who is sincerely committed to building Jeremy Corbyn’s vision of the Labour Party as an end in itself.
Socialists who cut themselves off from that because of some desire to preserve their revolutionary integrity or because they are certain that Corbyn is bound to sell out are committing the worst mistake a Marxist can make. They are cutting themselves off from self-organised mass movement.