Labour’s lacklustre performance under Starmer is no cause for delight. It benefits the Tories not the left. So how should the left respond?
For some the answer is simple. Starmer undermined Corbyn with his support for a second referendum. He was prepared to sacrifice our chances of beating the Tories in order to replace Corbyn as leader. He was elected on false promises of uniting the party. His ten pledges on policy have been abandoned. He has used any excuse to sack left wing sympathisers from his shadow cabinet, Rebecca Long-Bailey being a prime example, and withdrawn the whip from Jeremy Corbyn after an attempt to expel him from the party misfired. He has appointed Labour right wingers to tighten his hold on the party machine. In particular his appointment of David Evans as General Secretary has led to many local officers being suspended and where the left holds sway, as in Bristol and Liverpool, administrative diktats from above are used to subvert local democratic decision making.
He has constantly criticised the government, but not for their policies. He backs their policies for dealing with the pandemic but attacks them for their incompetence in carrying out those policies. Which is all well and good when they screw up. But now that the vaccine roll out is a success and this lockdown may be the last it is the Tories that benefit, not Labour. So much so in fact that in a recent poll on who should lead Britain, Starmer was third behind Johnson and the Don’t Knows came second!
And there’s the rub. The Left have always knuckled down and got behind Labour, even when we don’t like the leader or his policies, because our first priority has always been to get the Tories out. But if Starmer is failing so badly, what’s the point?
Many thousands no longer see the point. They have left the Labour party. Some have gone to fringe parties or to the Greens. Most would describe themselves as politically homeless. All are feeling angry and betrayed. Many thousands more who share these feelings have stayed in the hope that if Labour’s current polling is reflected in the May elections even the Labour right will say enough is enough and we will have the chance to select a more socialist leader before long.
At its most extreme, disillusion with Labour expresses itself in comrades saying they will not even vote Labour, never mind campaign for them. They expect, some even hope for, a Labour collapse that will weaken the right so much that the left make a comeback in which we will not be so conciliatory as we were under Corbyn. They want purges. We’ll give them purges! Or else they hope the left will abandon Labour en masse, taking campaign group MPs and left leaning unions with them to build a genuine democratic socialist party that will challenge for power at the next General Election.
In reality, if Labour falls apart it will be because the country is moving even further
to the right. Workers do not automatically turn to the left in defeat. They are more likely to abandon Labour. The Blue Wall will stay. Farage will make a comeback with a new populist message and the far right will crawl out from under their stones and take to the streets with renewed confidence. The Labour right will use this landscape to strengthen their grip on the party.
BUILD IT AND THEY WILL COME?
Any attempt to build a new democratic socialist party will be extremely difficult. We will be accused of being wreckers who are splitting the Labour vote and letting the Tories stay in power. Even if a new party emerges and weathers the storm to survive, it will take a long time to become a successful electoral force. The original Labour Party went through a series of transformations between the establishment of the Labour Representation Committee of 1900 to the fully fledged democratic socialist party of 1918 that replaced the Liberals as the main opposition to the Tories. Then we had to wait until 1945 for the first majority Labour Government. And during the time it takes to establish a new party it will be under immense pressure to compromise its socialist ideals to demonstrate its electability. It may finish up not too different from the Labour Party it sets out to replace.
WE’RE ALL DOOMED?
Does that mean it’s hopeless? Only if you believe that electing a democratic socialist government to parliament is our only hope for the future. I share the view that such a prospect is very unlikely, even at the best of times. And these are certainly not the best of times. The pandemic has illustrated the divisions and inequalities that have only worsened under capitalism since the global financial crisis of 2007/2008. There is the threat of further pandemics, hinted at in the news of transmission to humans of bird flu in Russia. Before the pandemic climate catastrophe and the crisis in biodiversity provided an even more existential threat, not just to us but to the entire planet.
KEEP ON KEEPING ON
But there is hope. The chaotic and conflicting responses of the ruling class around the world, show that they have very little clue about what to do, other than try and make sure that we pick up the bill for their failure. Two nations that were ostensibly prime examples of the virtue of liberal ideas and western democracy gave us Brexit and Trump. There are two requirements for a revolution. The first is that our rulers are unable to rule in the same old way. The second is that we refuse to be ruled in the same old way.
We’ve seen the first criterion met. So why aren’t we all manning the barricades right now? How do they get away with it? It helps that the media are largely on their side or else missing in action. But the media are a reflection as well as a shaper of public opinion. The real reason people are not up in arms is two-fold. One, we are in a pandemic and it is very hard to organize socially distanced mass demonstrations during a lockdown. Two, people are demoralised by ten years of austerity. Big struggles do not arise in proportion to the injustice people suffer. They arise out of the confidence built on victories in previous smaller struggles. There have been all too few victories in recent years.
WE NEED TO START WINNING
Things are changing. New unions are organizing workers in the so-called gig economy. It is not new. It is not clever. We’ve always had it. On building sites it was known as the Lump. On the docks it was the Blob. Casual labour, no rights, no power. That is beginning to change. At present it is small change – Pimlico plumbers, Uber drivers. But what about Amazon? Unlike the other internet giants its wealth depends on customer satisfaction based on the performance of casual labourers delivering its goods to our doors. When Amazon workers strike we’ll know we are getting somewhere.
WHAT IS TO BE DONE?
An area of activity where socialists can help to make a difference is in promoting trade union organisation. One motivation for the Labour Party was the success of new trade unionism. Unskilled labourers and new industries like gasworkers were organized and started winning in the 1890s. So government proposed anti-union laws and the unions wanted a parliamentary presence to oppose them. Hence the LRC. I may want a new party. But what I want more is for organized workers to want a new party.
Housing. In the 1930s tenants organizations mobilised to defend people from evictions and led rent strikes. We are seeing this again. Especially with students locked out of living accommodation they are contractually obliged to pay for. And it’s not just tenants. Leaseholders in unsellable flats with dangerous cladding are in every town and city.
#MeToo and #BLM showed us that age old battles against sexism and racism are as necessary now as they ever were. They are added layers of meaning with LGBTQ+ Refugees and Asylum seekers. Socialists are still the tribunes of the oppressed.
Then there is the solidarity we can show to the homeless, to the foodbanks and kitchens. It is only charity when it is used to let the government off the hook, Marcus Rashford’s campaign over free school meals showed us how to use it to put the government on the hook.
So no big wins in prospect, but the chance to come together to make a difference in our communities, our workplaces and, when the opportunity arises, through national campaigns. And it does not matter whether we are in the Labour party or out of it, building alternative parties or in no party at all. It’s like being on a picket line. There will be lots of arguments and debates. But when the scab lorry comes round the corner the arguing stops. We all link arms and stand united across the factory gates.
What is to be done about the Labour Party?
- Generally speaking, in England we have to vote for it, if only to keep the Tories out.
- If you are member don’t just quit. If you have somewhere better to go to OK. But most of us will be staying and fighting a defensive war to deny the right-wing total victory. And it may be a dented shield, but socially committed Labour councils are all that stand between some people and the abyss. I will be campaigning for a Labour vote in May.
- If you are not a member, or are an ex-member, do not write off the comrades who have chosen to stay. Whether it’s a picket or a demo or a public meeting we want unity in action. The more the merrier and we can still engage in fraternal debate but please, no sectarian point scoring.
WHO AM I TO TALK?
Me. I am 68. I was in IS and SWP from around 1969 to the late 1990s. that’s when I had a mental breakdown and things went a bit vague. I joined the Labour Party in 2017 after the general election. I’ve been an office junior, a bookshop assistant, a docker and a teacher. I was active in the TGWU, NUS and NUT. Now I am a retired member of NEU and a member of the Society of Authors and English PEN. I do charity work around autism for the NAS and fancy myself as a writer. You can follow me @convivir on Twitter.
Fraternally Yours to all comrades.
Up Yours if you are a Tory.
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