In one of the post-Brexit debates on Irish social media a supporter of the Socialist Party in Ireland claimed that one of Corbyn’s two mistakes was that he hadn’t tried to build outside the Labour Party. For sheer blind chutzpah this isn’t bad.
Immediately after the UK elections I wrote the following:
“Right now the opportunity exists to have a debate in front of working people about the wide range of policies that they need to advance their interests. This arises from the debate on who will be the replacement leadership of the Labour Party. It will not of course be a debate pitting a pure revolutionary programme (however understood) against a cowardly watered down Keynesianism. But what could ever lead anyone to expect that? This is where the working class is at and no amount of wishful thinking will make it otherwise. Will those organisations claiming to be Marxist be able to place themselves in the middle of this debate? Will they even want to? The debate will happen anyway and many will look to it for a new way forward beyond the despair that the new Tory regime will inevitably create.”
Of course the left organisations ignored the Corbyn phenomenon until they noticed the world was passing them by, whereupon they suddenly discovered that the world was passing them by. Now Corbyn and his supporters are criticised for not creating a mass anti-austerity movement and not kicking out all the Blairite MPs immediately.
In a world in which the fundamental problem for working people has been a “crisis of working class leadership”, i.e. workers have not found their revolutionary leaders (for nearly 80 years now – how on earth could this be possible?); for this view all that is required is for a political leadership to decide something and it sort of happens, just like that. Think of the US TV series ‘Bewitched’ (look it up if you’re too young).
Having contributed nothing, not even awareness of what was at stake after the election, they think Corbyn can magic up a mass movement and upend the whole Labour Party in less than a year. We’re expected to believe the push to kick him out has been a surprise to him.
Now the immediate and medium term fate of socialist forces in Britain is overwhelmingly being determined by the fight to keep Jeremy Corbyn as leader of the Labour Party. All the criticisms that he is an electoralist is so much irrelevance because this fate will likely depend on an election, one in which the left group members don’t have a vote.
Of course it is correct to criticise Corbyn for being a reformist who is opposed to a total transformation of a capitalist society that can only be achieved in a revolutionary fashion but this is the sheerest hypocrisy from the members of these groups, and here’s why.
For the last few decades these parties have claimed that the problem is a crisis of working class representation arising from the move of social democracy to the right, leading to the political death of the Labour Party; no longer a working class party in any sense and no longer a viable vehicle for workers to struggle from.
So their bright idea was to replace the Labour Party with themselves as the social democratic alternative: in effect a new Labour Party still standing on a Keynesian economic programme. All the while displaying their new found talent for bourgeois politics by failing to openly present what is supposed to be their real politics, or what they consider to be Marxism, rather like bourgeois politicians who promise one thing but mean quite another. It’s almost as if they stole the Labour party’s old clothes only to find Corbyn appear on the stage with the Labour Party’s genuine old clothes.
Now they have the cheek to criticise Corbyn, who in less than a year has inspired a movement that dwarfs the fruits of their years of effort, on a programme not qualitatively different from their own, while still failing to register the importance of what is happening.
We all make political mistakes but we learn from them. Since the left organisations never admit to political mistakes they never learn.
Worse still, they have contributed to the disastrous threats that now threaten British workers by having supported Brexit and the tide of reaction it has unleashed. Like cynics who know the price of everything and the value of nothing they know, or rather think they know, how to destroy capitalism but not a clue how to create socialism. They know what they are against but are incapable of saying what in the real world, the world that exists now, they are for. They now prattle on about a political crisis oblivious of the nature of that crisis and how well placed the working class is to resolve it in its interests.
Once again they remain blind to the real world, describing the referendum as a workers revolt, “a revolt . . against the people at the top of society”. This overwhelmingly nationalist ‘revolt’ heavily saturated by racism and xenophobia can, according to ‘Socialist Worker’, “be dragged left or right. The right will ty to use the Leave vote to deepen racism.” All this in a leaflet entitled ‘Unite to Shape Revolt against Establishment.’
Once again they’re a bit late. The Leave campaign started off very right wing but managed to shift even further right the longer it went on. The Leave campaign has already deepened racism – turn on your TV and watch the news to see its effects. So who exactly are they going to unite with? Who? Even ‘Socialist Worker’ had to admit that “#Lexit – the Left Leave campaign we were part of – had only a marginal effect” and that’s being generous. So who do they think did have an effect? How did “the campaign get dragged to the right? Through whose influence?
And what’s their alternative?
They think that Labour should have joined the Leave campaign, a ‘tragedy’ it didn’t. Apparently it would have “transformed the debate to be far more about democracy, breaking from austerity . . .” an admission of the real character of the real Leave campaign that wasn’t about democracy and wasn’t about breaking from austerity. Their alternative is the next ‘big’ demonstration in October at the Tory conference and “a general election now.” But who on earth would they vote for?
The referendum campaign demonstrated the growth of reactionary sentiments in some working class areas presided over by Blairite MPs, in other words demonstrated the importance of that Party, and the importance of a victory for Corbyn as leader of that Party. The struggle in the Labour Party is not therefore simply an internal matter even if it is the fight inside the party that will decide.
In this fight the Blairite careerists have launched a premeditated and calculated campaign using a mass media that brazenly shows little pretence at balance. The purpose of this mass media is to make people feel isolated, alone and despondent; that their left wing views are marginal and that all they can do is accept whatever media friendly candidate the Blairites finally unite around.
As I type these words Channel 4 news reports on a demonstration in Edinburgh in favour of Remain and some nationalist says he feels zero per cent British. Immediately the camera cuts to an unofficial demonstration at Westminster by predominantly young people also demanding Remain. The obvious lesson – unity, the obvious lesson for nationalists – separation; although now they will find it a tad more difficult to use ‘London’ as some sort of swear word and they will be fighting with that dirty label ‘unionist’ as supporters of the European Union.
The only credible vehicle of such unity now is a Labour Party led by Jeremy Corbyn but that party is now split and will split. The mass membership will not stay in a party that overturns its democratic decision, that seeks to turn its back on opposition to austerity and seeks to join the movement that scapegoats immigrants. Equally there is no room for careerist MPs in a Corbyn led Labour Party, MPs who would rather see the Party lose than see it win under Corbyn. This being the case there is no room for unity.
If the Left wants to do something useful it should re-evaluate its disastrous association with a reactionary cause and throw its weight into fighting in the Labour Party to defend the movement that has given hope to many millions. Millions that they otherwise have no hope of reaching.
Their Marxism should be the most internationalist, the most alive to the needs of young people, of the workers and its movement; in so doing being the most attractive to all those seeking an alternative to the current system.
“In what relation do the Communists stand to the proletarians as a whole?
The Communists do not form a separate party opposed to the other working-class parties.
They have no interests separate and apart from those of the proletariat as a whole.
They do not set up any sectarian principles of their own, by which to shape and mould the proletarian movement.
The Communists are distinguished from the other working-class parties by this only: 1. In the national struggles of the proletarians of the different countries, they point out and bring to the front the common interests of the entire proletariat, independently of all nationality. 2. In the various stages of development which the struggle of the working class against the bourgeoisie has to pass through, they always and everywhere represent the interests of the movement as a whole.”
(Karl Marx, The Communist Manifesto)