Stop messing about – The Marxist left and Labour

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.


6 Comments on Stop messing about – The Marxist left and Labour

  1. Mark Findlay // 27th June 2017 at 4:43 pm // Reply

    I’m posting a bit of debate that was attached to the original post of this article on Facebook. It will probably come out full of extraneous stuff, but hopefully the tenor of the debate will be there:

    Garth Frankland
    Garth Frankland Article written by someone who refuses to accept the lessons of Syriza. Sad really
    · Reply · 6 hrs
    Rob Marsden
    Rob Marsden There is little mileage in that argument Garth. Surely Left Unity outside the LP is trying to build a broad left party ie a Syriza type formation.
    · Reply · 4 hrs
    Garth Frankland
    Garth Frankland Left Unity should be able to learn lessons because of its structure and thought processes. However Social Democracy has over 100 years of capitulation. We can make difference in Left Unity.
    It useful for our comrades to be in the Labour Party as long as they act like a raiding party and therefore keep away from Momentum etc
    · Reply · 3 hrs
    Mark Findlay
    Mark Findlay Garth, I am amazed that you can have such an unconstructive approach. Hundreds of thousands of people have joined the LP and have done so because Corbyn has clearly broken with two decades of Blairism. Now we can all speculate as to what might happen if Corbyn was able to form a government. Certainly you are right to say that Labour governments have always betrayed in the past, but predicting it up front and effectively condemning all those people that have joined it as idiots just won’t wash. Now I’m the first to admit that I have been Corbyn skeptical for long time and to some extent I still am. But to predict defeat before the battle is to doom ourselves to perpetual ruin.

    The alternative followed by the SWP, SP and others follows a long history of useless sectarianism, of isolating themselves from the real struggle. We need to be in there shoulder to shoulder with new young militants. We need to be part of the fight. Of course we know that Corbyn will hit huge problems from day one. But we need to be in the thick of the struggle and not commentating from some high building on how useless it all is.

    Rob Marsden points out helpfully that in fact Left Unity, which we have long supported, in fact tried to build a broad-left party on similar lines to Syriza. And Syriza of course retreated from the battle as we know. We can talk about that and why it happened. But it shows that being somewhere else than the LP doesn’t guarantee you victory.

    We can speculate what could happen if a Corbyn government was elected. We can also wonder what else might happen at the same time. Would we just think it would be a parliamentary battle? I think not. Extra-parliamentary struggle would be part of it, but the struggle would be a wide battle on many fronts. But we need to be inside it, not outside.

  2. Excellent article from Socialist Resistance. And I can’t think of any thing useful to add to your last post Mark. Join the battle and then see.

  3. Peter Harris // 28th June 2017 at 6:49 pm // Reply

    You say in your article:” You can be part of that only if you are inside the Labour Party.” So is Socialist Resistance going to dissolve it’s organisation and not do entryist work in the Labour Party, a practice it condemns?

  4. Jimmy Haddow // 28th June 2017 at 7:07 pm // Reply

    The problem with small groups/newspapers who give a critique to the the views of the Socialist Party’s prognosis and tactical response to the Labour Party never give a political and historical background to our history in the Labour Party. The point is that a significant layer of Socialist Party members are expelled Labour Party members for fighting against the Tory government when the Labour Party leadership was under the Kinnock regime. Like many at the time I was expelled because I organised and fought against the poll tax on the basis of non-payment – for which I was jailed for – which the Kinnockites opposed that method of struggle. The labour Party at the moment is two parties in one organisation and the Socialist Party are advocating that we would want to become involved and join in the Labour Party if they would have us. At the moment the Blairite machine oppose our approaches which is the reason why our advice looks from the outside. I leave an article to show our approach to the Labour party at the moment.

  5. The article that Jimmy links to is a good example of what’s wrong with the SP’s approach to the Labour Party. Most of the people who’ve joined in the last couple of years either weren’t born or were are primary school during the Liverpool events or the Poll Tax. For them these things are as relevant and interesting as the Peasants’ Revolt, so there really is no point obsessing about them. And people saying they were members from 1957-1983, 1964-1983 and 1966-1995 just seems odd.

    If individual SP members apply to join the Labour Party they have a pretty good chance of being admitted. The appeal to Labour’s NEC is a tactical device which allows the signatories to claim they’ve tried to join Labour confident in the knowledge that the manner of asking means they won’t be allowed in. That’s effectively choosing to cut yourself off from the people joining Labour.

    Jimmy’s article is a a sectarian, moralistic defence of a wrong position. Life inside Labour is much more interesting and the comrades should give it a go.

  6. I think it’s important for marxists to be in the Labour Party, and the pro-Corbyn articles on this site are undoubtedly welcome from that point of view. However, constructive criticism is not only necessary but helps SR offer a distinctive voice. So let’s have an article or two soon setting out a progressive position on migration and Brexit (I know there was one a few months back), and a guest article or an interview on Scottish independence.

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published.