I realise that not everybody agrees with my analysis of Labour. People I thought would have come to the same conclusion as me months ago keep telling me that they are hanging on in there. The problem, or maybe it’s not a problem, for the Labour left is that there is always another vote around the corner. Not too long ago we all had to stay in to vote for the left slate on the NEC, then it was to pass motions opposing the suspension of Jeremy Corbyn, then to pass motions in support of those suspended for opposing the suspension of Jeremy Corbyn, or to pass motions of no confidence in SirKeith and his mate Dave ‘the big suspender’ Evans. Now it is to campaign for left candidates in the local elections (or national elections if you are in Wales or Scotland), followed by getting delegates to conference to vote through “socialist policies”. Or even less likely to vote for left candidates in a fantasy Labour leadership election. And then, like Groundhog Day, it all starts again.

We are still told that leaving Labour, or worse still not voting for them, is giving the Tories a victory. As if Labour is not itself a conservative party. Plenty of people fall for this not because they have any love for SirKeith or the patriotic nonsense he and his cronies spout but because they believe in parliamentary democracy. Many people did not agree with my analysis of proportional representation as essentially a means to establish a permanent Conservative coalition. That’s their right, of course, but the figures produced by the Electoral Reform Society show clearly that under all the proposed systems the balance of power would be in the hands of the Lib Dem’s.

My opposition to PR is not that it gives the Tories power, any more than support for PR should hinge on whether it deprives the Tories of power. In real terms those things are irrelevant. My opposition is not even whether PR is fairer or not, though personally (and again the ERS figures support this view even if they do not reach this conclusion) I don’t think it is, but rather that it is an absolute diversion from struggles that really matter. In my honest opinion PR is an example of left posturing over issues that will not substantially change things for the better for those we claim to be representing.

Parliamentary democracy

For far too long the left has obsessed about parliamentary democracy in a belief that it is possible to create socialism through electoral means. If enough people vote for socialist policies then we can bring in socialism by mandating it from Westminster, Holyrood or Cardiff Bay. I live in Wales where we have a system of PR and a pretty permanent Labour government. According to the Joseph Rowntree Foundation “almost a quarter of people in Wales are in poverty (700,000) living precarious and insecure lives. The risk for children alone was higher with 3 in 10 children living in poverty. Wales has lower pay for people in every sector than in the rest of the UK.” If this is socialism in action it is a little short of what generations of socialists have been fighting for. Welsh socialists will tell you that devolution is limited and that Westminster is responsible. They will also point out that for much of their rule they have had to work with coalition partners who have been less than enthusiastic with some of their policies.

All of this, of course, is true. But, at Westminster level Labour has won elections and have they ever introduced socialism, or anything close to it? I know the words National Health Service jumped into many people’s brains at that question. So let’s just remind ourselves of the circumstances that led to the creation of the NHS. There is little doubt that the very existence of the NHS owes a great debt to its main political advocate, Nye Bevan, who was passionate about a national health service, as Anthony Broxton notes he saw the NHS in socialist terms: “A free health service is pure socialism, and as such is opposed to the hedonism of capitalist society.” It was bitterly opposed by the British Medical Association and although the Conservatives, led by Winston Churchill, voted against it 21 times their 1945 manifesto promised: “The health services of the country will be made available to all citizens. Everyone will contribute to the cost, and no one will be denied the attention, the treatment or the appliances he requires because he cannot afford them.” The truth is that the NHS came out of the Beveridge Report of 1942. More significantly, in order to keep the doctors onside Bevan had to compromise and allow them to maintain their private practices. In effect, whatever claims for socialism can be made for the NHS (and I do not doubt that the concept of ‘free at the point of use’ was Bevan’s vision) from its outset the socialism was undermined by allowing some to buy their way around waiting lists.

If Labour in 1945 was the best that parliamentary socialism could hope for, and compared to the absolute lack of passion in today’s Labour Party seems like revolutionary communism, the truth is that Labour’s famed “passion” for the NHS has been lukewarm since day one. It is often forgotten that Nye Bevan resigned from the front bench  in 1951 after Labour’s Chancellor Hugh Gaitskell introduced charges into the NHS. He was also opposed to Labour’s plans for military spending and as such was mocked as anti-American. In truth most of Labour’s right-wing had actually opposed universal healthcare, and in their hands they have chipped away at the one policy that could be said to be unequivocally socialist in formation. As Norman Ira Gelman wrote in an academic paper in 1954 “students of British politics are now reasonably well agreed  that the Attlee cabinet of 1945-51 accomplished little in the way of distinctively socialist legislation.”

The pinnacle of socialist achievement

Gelman cites a number of sources who agree that the main goal of the Attlee government was to pursue policies that: “did nothing to demonstrate decisively that they had passed beyond the Keynesian-Beveridge position of making capitalism work.” This was only 8 years after the National Health Act was passed, and yet somehow that fact eludes the modern Labour left who cite the Attlee government as the pinnacle of socialist achievement.

(Norman Ira Gelman (1954) ‘Bevanism: A philosophy for British Labour’ The Journal of Politics Vol. 16, No. 4 (Nov., 1954), pp. 645-663)

It’s not that I am desperate to trash Labour’s past but anybody who reads this blog regularly will know that I am always concerned about the way the past has been filtered. Although normally it is the right I have in my sights, Labour’s left have also been responsible for creating a version of Labour history that plays down entirely the failure of the Labour Party to take forward what is supposed to be our goal. As Eduard Bernstein said “The movement is everything, the ultimate goal is nothing.” It is almost the reformist creed, but more importantly it is the reason that both left and right airbrush the past to present an image of progress and success.

In some respects none of this matters. But, in an internet age where people have access to information at the press of a button, more information has not created a better informed, more politically literate electorate. The proliferation of misinformation means that crank theories and right-wing ranting gets equal billing with carefully researched and scientific knowledge. Which makes it more important than ever that we provide people with the tools to discriminate between valid opinion based on evidence and what, for want of a better phrase, we can call ‘fake news’.

Left myth making

What has all this to do with organising for socialism, you might ask? The wider point here is that whilst socialists may consider themselves better informed and more open to reason that does not mean we are not prone to believing that which we want to believe regardless of evidence to the contrary. The Labour left’s refrain that “the Labour Party was a socialist party” is just one example of how we can create our own myths to justify the actions we intend to take.

Let me be clear here. I can’t stop people believing any particular interpretation of history. Neither can I prevent people remaining loyal to a party that has long since lost its appeal to many on the left. What I can do is try to pick my way through the debris of our history to try to see what it might tell us about the present. Which is what I attempt to do in this blog. You can tell me if I succeed or not. What I can also do is get together with other socialists in a forum that respects debate and discussion as the means to clarify our thoughts.

When I tweeted, in the wake of the launch of the Peace and Justice Project, whether anybody would be prepared to join an online discussion group, I fully expected it to go the way of most of my tweets – 3 likes and obscurity. When people who did not even follow me starting replying “yes” and “count me in” I started to think I might have hit upon something. An online discussion group of disparate individuals united only in their desire for radical social change seems both an obvious response to the crisis facing the left and the least likely to succeed. People join parties and movements with leaders and structures, they don’t join loose knit coalitions of people who have only a vague idea of where they are heading or how they are going to get there.

Socialists without a political home

All of which makes it even more pleasing that last Tuesday evening 35 of us met on Zoom, that ubiquitous tool of organisation, to discuss our prospects for what we might achieve during a pandemic. I’m not going to write a full account of what happened or name any individuals here as that would be to ignore the fact that they were in a private meeting and therefore entitled to expect Chatham House rules to apply. There were a few participants who were Labour members and a couple who joined primarily to advocate for particular causes. But on the whole the people who took part were pretty much like me. Socialists with no particular home who wanted to be able to discuss socialism with others who, pretty much, agreed that socialism was a good thing.

Some headlines though are certainly worth drawing out. It was obvious from replies I received that despite the impression that we are all at Zoom meetings two or three nights a week, a number of people had never attended a Zoom meeting before. A number of those still haven’t. I think this is important for we tend to take both technical competence, and more importantly, technical confidence, for granted. Indeed, this issue of confidence is crucial.

It may not surprise you to know that I don’t lack confidence to speak at meetings. But I have always been aware that not everybody shares this attribute (being a big mouth!) In meetings it is very easy to assume that the quiet ones just have nothing to say, but I can assure you that many of those quiet ones do nothing but talk outside the formal constraints of a meeting. I have experienced the elevated heart rate, sweaty palms and dryness in the throat at meetings where, for various reasons, I have not felt comfortable. But the thing I’ve noticed, and have been guilty of myself, is that meetings of the left are often dominated by those most confident to speak. Very often white men (of which I also have to plead guilty). So any new organisation has to find ways to allow those voices effectively silenced to have an opportunity to speak, but be comfortable doing so.

Inclusivity and respect

Our discussion group tried to be inclusive and respectful to everybody, but as we were Zoom newbies it was also slightly chaotic. The issues that came up were those which most of us would talk about if we had a night out with socialist friends:

  • should we stay in Labour?
  • how do we counteract the mainstream media?
  • are we just creating another echo chamber?
  • how do we support local, community based campaigns?

Unsurprisingly given that we only had 80 minutes we didn’t work out any particular answers. Though it has set us up for some interesting discussion going forward.

You might think that a meeting of 35 people on one Tuesday evening in February is hardly earth shattering news. And you would, of course, be right. We got no coverage in the media, no motions condemning or applauding us and as far as I know there were no questions asked in the House. This meeting compared to some taking place (I can think of some with more speakers than we had participants) does not seem particularly worthy of a blog post, other than that I was there. But, and this might be a big but, the demoralised state of the left in Britain calls for a different than usual type of response.

Organising online rallies in which a narrow group of people tell us what we want to hear, passing motions in Labour Party meetings that are routinely ignored (other than to prompt further suspensions), or fantasising about a new party taking political power is, to be frank, business as usual. If, and this is also a big if, we are to put ourselves in a position to take advantage of the inevitable crisis in capitalism I strongly believe that we need to find new ways to organise. No more top down, bureaucratic structures providing a career path for some and hard work to support those careers for the rest of us. We need to build a genuine bottom up movement in which ordinary people can build socialism whilst at the same time learning about themselves, developing skills and building their confidence. I don’t know whether we can achieve that but I am prepared to put some effort in to take this project forward in the hope, and it is no more than hope at this stage, that we can achieve something democratic, innovative and, perhaps, epoch changing. If you are reading this and this sounds like a project you could support then feel free to get involved.


To get involved in the project discussed in this article, either DM me on Twitter, leave a reply on Facebook or email me at the address above.

Can I encourage you to listen to The Socialist Hour podcast. Episode 1 is on Mixcloud now: https://www.mixcloud.com/SocialistHour/socialist-hour-episode-1-a-change-is-gonna-come/

And for a great listen, I recommend Project Coups regular shows on Mixcloud: https://www.mixcloud.com/incapablestaircase/jules-rules-project-coup-gem-2130-08022021/


You can sign up for the Peace and Justice Project headed by Jeremy Corbyn here https://thecorbynproject.com

Please write to Julian Assange who is still in Belmarsh: https://writejulian.com

Socialist reading: Please support the following socialist blogs

Charlotte Hughes https://thepoorsideof.life/

Rachael Swindon http://rachaelswindon.blogspot.com/

Jonathan Cooke https://www.jonathan-cook.net/blog/

And avoid the MSM and support these left wing sources instead:

TheReal.News https://thereal.news

The Canary https://www.thecanary.co/

Skwawkbox https://skwawkbox.org/

Counterfire  https://www.counterfire.org/

Morning Star: https://morningstaronline.co.uk/

Byline Times: https://bylinetimes.com

Support workers struggles by using the brilliant interactive strike map: https://strikemap.wordpress.com/2020/12/18/strike-map/

Another great site by the Dangerous Globe

Another great site by the Dangerous Globe

A free to use, comprehensive and independent search engine which is about to become your favourite. https://thereal.news

TheReal.News is a search engine that has had the spin removed. We use sites that we have studied for some time and monitored for integrity and we don’t use sites that we have seen which either spin or lie their way to the front page. Everybody is biased in some way or they aren’t breathing, but Bias and Bollocks are not the same thing.

People that tell the truth are quite easy to find because they cite references and sources to back up what they say. The opposite is also true.

Please spread the word
Dave Middleton
I'm Dave Middleton. I am a member of the Labour Party (until they catch up with me) and like to think of myself as left-wing. My Twitter account is @DavMidd Please do feel free to email me about this blog at ThinkingDoing51@gmail.com
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