Socialists in the Labour Party – should I stay or should I go?

The suspension of Jeremy Corbyn for daring to state an opinion, and one that accords with the facts, is a provocation by the right of the Party.  Corbyn is obviously a much diminished figure since he ceased being leader, and the very limited revolt of left MPs in opposition to Kier Starmer’s support for the right of agents of the State to murder and torture show that his failure to democratise the Party has weakened the Left.

What this implies is that the target of the disciplinary action is not so much Corbyn as the mass membership who were inspired by him becoming leader and promoting the policies that he did.  That you can be suspended for simply expressing an opinion that happens to be the truth is obviously a weapon that can be used against anyone who thinks the truth is important.  It’s ironic that it is a former Director of Public Prosecutions who is leading the witch hunt, not perhaps surprising to those of us who consider the State he served in such a senior position is a weapon of the ruling class.

Opposition to this State comes naturally to socialists from the North of Ireland who have long ago been accustomed to agents of the State getting away with murder; but it does make a difference that they are actually sanctioned to do it by law, and important also that the so-called Party of the working class in Britain votes in favour of it.

So if the right wing of the Labour Party decides to provoke the left – what is it provoking it to do and what is the objective if Corbyn and left MPs are clearly too weak to be of any real obstacle to its plans?

This can only be the defeat and expulsion of the left membership inside the Party.  The election of Corbyn to the leadership obviously came as a shock to it and to the British establishment more generally, and both don’t want it in place in any strength with the potential to do it again.  In fact, even if there are other methods to neuter the membership, the right wing of the Party is as opposed to socialism as the Tories and since the largest grouping of socialists in Britain is within the Labour Party a key objective is to shatter this potential base of socialist opposition.

So if this is the plan, what should the response of the membership be?  Should it be to stay and fight?  And what would be the objective of such a fight?  Or should it be to leave and set up another organisation?

Support from the second alternative comes from those who have always said that the Labour Party can never be reformed and will always defend the fundamental interests of capitalism.

In this case the question has to be put to them, at least to those who are members of the Party, what are you doing in it now?  Why, if this is true, did it not exclude you permanently from membership before now?  Does this not mean that there are some other grounds for membership?  And what would these be except that revolutionary socialists can be part of a mass phenomenon that has the potential to be organised and radicalised in a much more significant way than creation of yet another small radical left organisation?  Given past experience, one that will only parrot left reformist politics while failing to garner enough support to be relevant to the mass of the working class?

Some members will no doubt be demoralised by this turn of events, having rallied to the Labour Party because of Jeremy Corbyn becoming leader and the possibility of him leading a left Government.  But these people have just had an object lesson that significant progress and socialism will not be delivered to them from on-high, or from anywhere else, but only from their own organisation and activity.

They have been taught that the Labour Party is not democratic and a fight is needed to make it so, which can only come from the inside.  They have learnt that the right-wing of the Party is not on the same side as them and that appeals for unity that were ignored when Corbyn was leader will similarly get nowhere now Starmer is pulling the strings.  They will realise that it is the intention of the right of the Party that they should no longer be in the same movement.  The purpose of the provocation is to shatter the left by silencing and expelling it.  If this is the objective what purpose – whose purpose – does it serve by leaving the party or even making it easy to be expelled?

So, to return to the first alternative – should the left in the party stay and fight and what should be the objective of remaining in the Party in the current situation?

Given the accumulation of a mass membership it should be clear that the objective must be to defend its current position and oppose resignation and expulsion.  This should be the first task.  The alternative is to leave and set up an alternative and rival organisation.  The history of such organisations is not a good one and those that exist are by and large sects that have proved incapable of containing even a narrow spectrum of opinion within their ranks, never mind the current political heterogeneity of the left membership of the Labour Party.

Whatever can be said about the political weakness of much of the left membership from a Marxist point of view, there is no reason to believe that it does not faithfully reflect the leftist working class support outside the Party.  The so-called revolutionary left usually acknowledges this, without acknowledging it, by presenting itself as left reformist when it organises in its unity projects or goes before workers in elections.  Thinking that, alternatively, this failure can be overcome by adopting a revolutionary programme will leave any organisation small and fixated on getting their programme right, which translates into splits.

More fundamentally, a programme without the working class is an idea searching for a reality; in this case a small number of revolutionary militants searching for a working class membership that ignored, if it was even aware of, its previous left projects and joined the Labour Party.  This membership was right to do so, so there is no reason to expect it to rally to their banner now.

So the objective of this fight is to resist attempts at expulsion and to remain alongside the hundreds of thousands of members in the fight to learn the lessons of what is going on – the lessons as set out above.  This means the left must organise to resist the expulsion of Jeremy Corbyn and any other member – success will be preventing this from happening.

How this is done is for the members themselves and those much more in tune with what is possible than I am, but at a general level what it means is that socialists have to know how to retreat and how to defend their position in the Party by defending their membership.  If they think it’s about an opportunity to create a genuine mass socialist party then they have misread the situation completely and will play into the hands of the right.

Lenin said that it ‘is an incontestable truth’ that ‘communists must exert every effort to direct the working-class movement and social development in general along the straightest and shortest road to the victory of Soviet power . . . but it is enough to take one little step farther – a step that might seem to be in the same direction – and truth turns into error.’’  As he goes on to say, sometimes it is necessary to take conciliatory manoeuvres and make compromises.

If this sounds like selling out then those thinking this must not be able to conceive how in current circumstances it is possible to take this sort of action, how to take a step back, how to make a retreat that prepares for future advances.  Those who reject this approach may sound very revolutionary but what they are proposing is anything but.  Corbyn made an absolute blunder by accepting the slanders about anti-semitism in the Labour Party and he, and we, are paying the price for it.  So, now that the going has gotten very tough the tough have to stay and fight.

6 thoughts on “Socialists in the Labour Party – should I stay or should I go?

  1. One reason why the Labour Party has conducted its politics in a fundamentally capitalist manner is that the bulk of the working class have historically supported such politics while rejecting revolutionary alternatives.

    Even at times of intense economic and political crisis during the twentieth-century, the large majority of the British working class has refused to support revolutionary politics.

    Millions of workers could have flooded into the newly formed CPGB in 1920 – at a time of intense class militancy and global instability – but they did not.

    Millions could have flooded into the CPGB in the aftermath of the 1926 General Strike, or in the context of the 1929-33 global depression. But they did not.

    During the 1970s, a time of heightened and politicised industrial militancy, the CPGB suffered membership decline. Some Trotskyist groups added membership, but were hammered every time they stood under their own banner in elections.

    So the problem of the Labour Party is also partly a problem of the historical development of the British working class. This will hopefully change. But at the present time, simply denouncing Labour for its lack of revolutionary politics is a distraction from the more important work of re-organising and re-politicising the class after decades of decomposition and defeat.

  2. Unfortunately it was Corbyn’s blunder in accepting the bogus allegations of antisemitism that has made it nigh on impossible to stay in the Labour Party and fight. The entire public face of the Labour left is accepting the EHRC report. It’s complete madness. Something has to be done about the AS weapon and it can’t be done inside the Labour Party.

  3. The labour left leadership are wedded to the labour party. It is what pays their wages. They wont fightback..Just shadow boxing but no real fightback. Up to rank and file socialists who have not been corrupted by the labour movements pro capitalist careerist machine to organise for a real mass socialist party. The labour party will never be a socialist party. Indeed the labour right are the most potent anti socialist force in british society. The labour party is moving right and is going the way of social democratic parties in Europe- right wing careerists shells which support attacks on the working class. The Corbyn experience has shown that the institutional labour left is a paper tiger which will never break from the labour right and will never lead a transformation of the labour party into a party that fights for the interests of the working class. Socialists need to prepare the ground for the launch of a real socialist party that can combat the ruling class offensive on our living standards. No need for a premature organizational split. Prepare the ground for a new socialist party. Reject the delusion that the labour party can be won to socialist politics and that socialists should subordinate themselves to the labour right in the interests of “unity” A starmer labour government will be no better than Blair’s government. Indeed it will be worse since the capitalist crisis is worse than it was 20 years ago. Starmers watch words will be authoritarianism, militarism, austerity, british nationalism and state repression of socialists and any working class fightback

    • “Prepare the ground for a new socialist party.”

      Isn’t that what sections of he left have repeatedly done for the last century? Isn’t the reality that what they have actually prepared have been sectarian bear pits, or else have been just a version of Labour Mark II, or, as in the case of the CP, even worse than that? Isn’t the truth that you cannot simply prepare and declare some such new party, but that it must itself grow out of the working-class, its material conditions, and its struggle, most importantly the political struggle, which it necessarily undertakes inside the the existing bourgeois workers organisations – trades unions, political parties etc.? Isn’t that why Engels advised Eleanor Marx to avoid the existing sects, in trying to build such a party, and instead go direct to the workers where they were in the Liberal Clubs? isn’t it why Lenin advised the British CP to affiliate to Labour, and why he criticised infantile Leftists like McLean and Pankhurst for adopting the position you put forward. Isn’t it why Trotsky and his supporters made the French Turn in the 1930’s, against the opposition of the Oehlerite sectarians who made the same claims you make now.

      ” Reject the delusion that the labour party can be won to socialist politics”

      I agree, but the fight alongside the workers where they are, as Marx and Engels did in the German Democrats is vital in its own right. It is vital to transforming he consciousness of the vanguard of the class from Labourism. It will result in something different from the LP. Either the Right will split, meaning that what is left is no longer recognisably the Labour party, as stands, or else, as happened with the split of Lib-Labs from the Liberals it will result in a new mass party. That is quite different from assorted sects periodically making ridiculously pronouncements about the creation of the new workers’ party, which fizzle without trace.

      “and that socialists should subordinate themselves to the labour right in the interests of “unity””.

      I agree, but when have the actual Left ever advocated doing that? The only people advocating such “unity” are the soft and fake left.

      “A starmer labour government will be no better than Blair’s government. Indeed it will be worse since the capitalist crisis is worse than it was 20 years ago.”

      No better than Blair I agree, but on what metric is the capitalist crisis worse today than 20 years ago? We have a short run, self inflicted crisis caused by the imposition of idiotic lockdowns, we have actually had global economic growth deliberately slowed by governments, via austerity, and money printing to divert money into financial speculation, and away from the real economy, to prevent too rapid growth causing interest rates to rise, and asset prices to crash. But, the conditions for global economic growth are far better today than twenty years ago, which is why they have to take those measures to slow it.

      I am no fan of Starmer, and do expect an attack on the left, but its by no means certain of succeeding, given the size of the Left, now. Nor do your predictions about his future actions have much grounding in anything substantial. He will certainly and is play to all those sentiments for electoral purposes, unless, of course, he thinks they no longer fit his electoral purposes in which case he will flip-flop once again.

  4. I absolutely agree. Great piece.

    There is one condition I can see which would justify the Left splitting to create a separate party. It is that the vast majority of he 500,000 members would do so en bloc, and that they would be supported by the major unions such as UNITE, UNISON and so on.

    However, the reality is that the 500,000 members are not all active. The left failed to educate and organise them for this eventuality, because it focused instead on grandiose events like the World Tranformed, whilst failing to organise members at local level to get shut of right-wing councillors and careerists, let alone right-wing and soft left MP’s. Indeed, Corbyn and Momentum baulked at such action, as they dithered and attempted to compromise with the right.

    I have suggested, as you do, that the Left should organise anonymously online o resist Corbyn’s expulsion. Motions to branches, CLP’s, trades unions etc. should be bland, calling for Corbyn’s reinstatement, and not giving any grounds in argumentation or anyone else to be expelled. If the membership has a majority for the left, which I believe it does, then we can simply rely on organisation to mobilise the required votes for such motions, without making statements that would give grounds for the witchhunt to be extended. We can phrase resolutions in terms, of the suspension should be reversed because it does not comply with party rules, or natural justice, and is not in the interests of the party and party unity, for example.

    If a wave of such resolutions are passed, without any grounds for individual expulsions being created, the Right will step up their attacks and provocations. They will begin to close down branches and CLP’s without grounds, simply on the basis of having passed such resolutions. In he meantime, the left needs to use this opportunity to educate that membership and to stress the need to replace those right-wing elements, and to pass resolutions calling for the required democratisation of the party, and other sections of the labour movement.

    If the Left is able to do that, then the Right can be defeated. If we cannot then there is not in any case any grounds for a separate party, because those members will not be adequately organised and mobilised in it either. If the left does organise that mass membership then a split it seems to me is inevitable. Indeed, I predicted that in January. Either the Right will go for mass expulsions of CLP’s etc, or else they will themselves split taking the party name and machinery with them, along with some TU’s.

    But, if 2, 3, 4 or 500,000 party members were to form a new party, with the backing of some large unions, either because they are expelled en bloc, or because the Right split taking the party name and machinery with them, then this would be a qualitatively different situation to anything seen before. It would be like the creation of the LP itself, out of the Liberal Party – that’s probably closer than the split of he Second International and creation of the Third, because the new party itself would be merely social-democratic in nature. In fact, in the nest of all possible worlds that would probably be he best outcome. Although such a party would have only a handful of MP’s, it would quickly be able to accumulate a large number of Councillors, and be in a position to replace the rump Labour MP’s come the next election.

    But, first the left must show that it can mobilise and organise all of those half million members inside he party itself first. Doing that rather than engaging in grand gestures is the order of the day.

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