Socialist Party documents

British Perspectives 2018


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Character of Corbynism

11) The Labour leadership also bear responsibility for the complications in the post-election situation.

At root, their limitations stem from their reformist outlook, believing that their task is to win gains for the working class within the constraints of the existing capitalist framework.

Their hope, shared by millions, is that they can win a parliamentary majority at the next election. In order to achieve this, however, they have concluded that it is necessary to compromise with the pro-capitalist wing of the Labour Party.

This is a fundamental error. Meanwhile the pro-capitalist wing has been forced to appear reconciled to Corbyn's leadership.

Yet behind the scenes they continue to work to push him to the right and to take whatever opportunities arise to undermine him.

If the Trade Union Certification Officer demands a rerunning of the UNITE general secretary election, for example, this will be seized on as an opportunity to undermine Corbyn and the left.

In that event we would again give critical support to McCluskey's campaign and call on others on the left, who have previously stood against him, to do the same in the general interests of the labour movement, both industrial and political.

12) Despite the limitations of Corbyn's programme his most radical statements horrify the capitalist class and their representatives in the Labour Party.

Unfortunately, since the general election, in order to pacify them, Corbyn has returned to his tendency to Delphic silence that he adopted before the election.

Not least, the capitalist class fear Corbyn's history of activism. Pre-general election he was relentlessly attacked by the Blairites for not being interested in 'power' but only in organising movements on the streets.

Their vision of power is not power at all, but only office. In their dream of a Labour government all the power of the giant corporations and banks to dominate and wreck our lives would remain intact.

This would offer no fundamental relief to the suffering of the last decade. In this era of capitalist crisis all partial steps forward for the working class have to be linked to 'system change'.

13) Corbyn should not have given an inch to their fear of movements, of activism, of class struggle. Had he used his platform as Labour leader to call for serious movements against austerity and its effects the government could have collapsed by now, with Corbyn swept into government on the backs of a mass movement.

To give just one example, remember the mood of raw class anger that followed the Grenfell Tower horror.

At that time Corbyn rightly called for the requisitioning of the empty properties of the rich to house the homeless.

Six months on and more than 100 Grenfell families have yet to be rehoused and the properties of the rich remain empty assets on their property portfolios.

Had Corbyn, instead of quietly ceasing to call for requisitioning of empty properties, spoken to mass meetings in North Kensington putting it forward, the raw class anger would have been transformed into a movement on housing centred on North Kensington but with a London-wide or even national scope.

14) This is not the only issue on which Corbyn has been silent on the need for workers and young people to get organised in defence of their own interests.

It is undoubtedly a factor, for example, in the electoral 'youthquake' not yet having been transformed into a movement for free education, despite the clear potential for it.

Nor has he used his position to call for national action in defence of the NHS, or to smash the pay cap.

The collapse of Carillion has presented a huge opportunity for a movement to call for renationalisation of all privatised public services, and beyond that in favour of socialism, but this has not so far been grasped.

Corbyn has sometimes said at least said Labour would cancel PFI, but other front bench spokespeople have limited themselves to saying they would decide contract by contract on the basis of 'value for money'.

Nonetheless, unlike any Labour leader for generations, he can be pushed to support movements when they develop from below, which can then increase confidence to struggle.

15) The lack of a lead from the top will not indefinitely prevent new mass movements developing, possibly very quickly.

Both the Brexit referendum and the snap general election result were glimpses of the deep-seated anger with the existing order which is widespread in society, particularly among the working class and a considerable layer of the middle class, especially the young.

When new viable outlets for this anger emerge - electoral or otherwise - they will be seized, just as the Brexit referendum was, creating new upheavals which will again throw all the existing political parties into further turmoil.

Movements could develop on a whole range of issues, including the catastrophe currently facing the NHS.

If Trump had visited Britain at the start of 2018 he would undoubtedly have been faced with gigantic demonstrations, putting into the shade the sizeable women's march that took place last year.

This is the real reason he has stayed away. Nonetheless, the lack of a lead means that the existing surface calm could continue for a while.

16) The Labour leadership's mistaken approach reflects their programmatic limits. The general election manifesto marked a radical break with the neo-liberal policies of Labour over recent decades.

Nonetheless, by historical standards the programme is very modest, far more limited than was put forward by Tony Benn, or Corbyn himself, in the early 1980s.

Benn called for the nationalisation of the banks and the top 25 monopolies. It would not be accurate to describe Corbynism today as rounded-out left reformism.

It contains elements of this but is still much more limited. Although Corbyn would consider himself a socialist, and is seen as one, he does not raise his programme in terms of the need for a fundamental change in society - for an end to capitalism and the building of a new socialist order.

This was the case with left reformism in the past, albeit on a 'gradual' basis, and will be again in the future.

17) Corbyn's approach is connected to the early stage of a new era of radicalisation we are currently passing through.

Corbyn was correct when he said, in his conference speech, that "2017 may be the year when politics finally caught up with the crash of 2008", but it would be more accurate to say that it began to catch up.

There was enormous enthusiasm for Labour's radical election manifesto, but there is not as yet mass pressure on Corbyn pushing him further to the left.

18) The Labour Party remains, as we have repeatedly described it, 'two parties in one' - a pro-capitalist party and a new radical party in formation around Jeremy Corbyn.

Unfortunately, the mistaken approach of trying to compromise with the pro-capitalist wing of the party inevitably leads to confusion among the new 'Corbyn' layer.

There is no doubt that, had a concerted effort been made to mobilise this layer, with the goal of waging a political struggle to remove the pro-capitalists from their positions and completely overturning the undemocratic structures of the Labour Party that were consolidated over 20 years under the Blairites, hundreds of thousands would have been enthused to do so and, in the course of the struggle, drawn more far-reaching socialist conclusions.

19) Unfortunately, however, the leadership of Momentum has acted to 'police' the left, keeping out more radical forces including ourselves, and attempting to keep the movement within channels which the Blairites could live with.

Momentum's main selling point is not its programme or involvement in struggle, but its ability to teach people to canvass.

As a result, while a broader layer was undoubtedly drawn in during the general election to door knock for Labour, in most areas there is limited activity of the fresh layers in the sterile structures of Labour or Momentum.

On the contrary, the top-down and unpolitical atmosphere, combined with the Byzantine structures left by New Labour, tends to attract mainly the least radical elements into playing an active role.

The individual attempts to remove a few Blairite MPs are to be welcomed, as are any measures to re-democratise the party, but the limited steps taken so far do not alter the general picture.

20) The layers of society that have been drawn into activity by Corbyn are of a mixed character, including a large layer of the radicalised middle class.

As the junior doctors' strike demonstrated, wide sections of the middle class, especially among the young, are being radicalised by the failure of capitalism to offer them a future that matches their expectations, and are increasingly adopting working class methods of struggle.

This is a very important section of society, many of whom can be won to a revolutionary programme in the future.

Nonetheless, they do not yet have a fully working class outlook. If becoming active in the Labour Party meant becoming active in a workers' party, where the organised working class set the tone, it would be part of completing the process of winning them to a working class outlook.

Unfortunately this is not the case. Of course, there are also a layer of young working class people who have joined the Labour, even if most are not currently active, but they are not the driving force.

Partly this is because they are mainly in unorganised workplaces and do not yet have experience of struggle (although there are important first steps to this changing with the McDonald's and Deliveroo strikes).

Their consciousness as Labour Party members is therefore more individualistic than seeing themselves as part of a class at this stage.

21) This is not necessarily a permanent feature of Corbynism, and is certainly not a permanent feature of mass left formations.

In the future, on the basis of experience, we can see the development of more classical left reformist and even centrist formations.

While such formations will tend to be unstable, because they will quickly come into conflict with capitalism and be forced to choose between moving in a revolutionary direction or betraying the working class, this will not preclude a loyalty to them among sections of the working class for a period of time.

What tactics socialists and Marxists adopt in the future will have to be decided on the basis of the concrete circumstances we face.

In this phase of development, however, which has large elements of 'left populism', we have been extremely effective working as an independent party putting forward a fighting programme for the Labour Party.

We continue to argue the case for Labour to be transformed into a federal, democratic workers' party to which we could affiliate.

As things stand, however, we can most effectively orientate to radicalised workers and young people by working as an independent party that is active in struggle.


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