Friday, 21 August 2015

I've Voted For Corbyn


S&N said...

I no longer live in the UK so it is difficult to get a feel for what is happening as a result of Corbyn's run for leadership. But some thoughts nonetheless.

It seems likely that a Corbyn leadership will mean the Labour Party in Parliament will be in a permanent state of instability and crisis. Of course, the labour movement does not only exist in Parliament. But between now and the next election, the daily routine of politics and how it is covered by the mass media is largely a matter of what MPs say and do. The obvious gap between what Corbyn says, and what 90 per cent of Labour MPs say and think, will (I suspect) become a daily feature of how parliamentary politics is reported and discussed.

And it is via such coverage that those who did not vote Labour in 2015, and who Labour needs to convince in order to win more seats in England, will form a view of a Corbyn-led Labour Party.

It may be that the social movement that Corbyn wants to re-build will cut across some of this coverage and convince some previously non-Labour voters to support his politics. Good. But I suspect such a process of active preference-shaping will have a highly uneven impact. To many unconvinced voters who do not work in the public sector, have never been members of trade unions, have never been on a demo, and who largely view politics through the prism of how it is reported in the mass media, it is Corbyn's status as a leader of MPs who routinely disagree with him that is likely shape how he is perceived.

But, if the Labour Party were a party committed to social movement politics none of this would be decisive. The Party would understand that re-building the foundations for a radical politics in which changing people's minds is central takes time. It is not a matter of what this or that opinion poll says. It is not even a matter of winning the next general election. Success is a function of transforming the fundamental foundations of politics - in communities and workplaces.

This model of politics was of course widely embraced by parts of the Labour left in the 1970s and 1980s - especially in inner London. But, for the most part, it did not survive the attacks on it by the Tories - especially in the context of their managerial re-casting of local government. And it didn't survive the attacks by the Labour right who prioritised short-term electoralism over all else.

But it didn't survive in large part because sustained social movement politics has never been the defining characteristic of Labour Party politics. The Labour right (and much of the left)has always fetishized Parliament and the state, and has always seen winning seats as the only practical and legitimate way of exerting power.

The success of the Labour right's attack on the inner city left in the 1980s and 1990s was not the result of a historic break with the dominant traditions of the party (which many on the Labour left like to pretend). It was rooted fundamentally in an appeal to the Party's long-standing commitment to Parliamentary politics, and the short-term electoral logics that flow from it. And that appeal was not simply enforced by a Blairite clique (as many on the Labour left like to pretend). It was accepted, sometimes reluctantly, by a party membership who either never accepted the social movement model of Labour Party politics, or who had come by the early-1990s to view such a model as an impractical way of dislodging the Tories.

S&N said...

So, it seems to me (from a distance) that Corbyn is attempting to change the fundamental modus operandi of the Labour Party: from a taut electoralism that fetishizes the views of small numbers of floating voters, to a model of movement building that seeks to change how people view society and how problems can be solved. Fine. But to do this from a position of Party leadership, when maybe only 15 MPs actively support you and the left at grassroots level is historically weak, is to do so from a very precarious and vulnerable position.

It cuts against traditions and doctrines that have defined the Party for over a century. The groundwork to offer a sustained challenge those traditions and doctrines, and offer a coherent alternative as a basis for leading the Party, has not been done.

If I were in the UK Labour Party (again) I would vote for Corbyn. But I would also be preparing an explanation now for why his leadership failed and was never likely to succeed. And then we can, once again, discuss why building a movement for socialist change cannot be lead from within the Labour Party.

Boffy said...

I agree with a lot of your comments here. I wouldn't entirely agree with the assessment of the 1980's. Most of the "organised" left in the LP had a statist conception of socialism, even if for some of the local government left the locus of that state had been transferred to "the local state". So the emphasis was on winning control of local councils. Any movement building was geared to that end.

As I've argued previously, for example, it would have been a great step forward if Liverpool and other Councils had simply transferred ownership of the housing stock directly to tenants organised in housing co-ops, and encouraged the development of co-operatively managed estates. It would have much harder or future Tory and Labour governments to then sell off those houses, but more importantly would have brought about a fundamental change in workers material conditions, and the ideas that flow from it. It would have opened the possibility of creating co-operative construction companies and so on, thereby undermining CCT etc.

Also, I think the mainstream Bennite Left in the 1970's, in many ways reflected the real interests of social democracy, of big industrial capital, apart from one thing - their nationalism. Look at the requirement in Germany for equal worker representation on company boards, a proposal that is also included in a number of EU draft directives, and connect that with Clinton's comments about Quarterly Capitalism, and Haldane's comments about whether current shareholder structures are actually damaging to capital accumulation.

In other words, here we have the classic representation of the division of material interests between productive-capital and fictitious capital, and the left social democrats represent the logical interests of the former, why conservatives and Blairites represent the latter. Had the AES not been based around the nationalist ideas about nationalisation, import controls, leaving the EU etc. it could have formed a rational social-democratic programme that would have been a real alternative to conservatism at the time.

In that respect I think Corbyn has the potential to develop such a rational social-democratic strategy. All those who have joined the party have to begin building local community organisations such as TRA's, and thereby turn the LP branches outwards, whilst bringing many more activists in. They need to directly pressure, if not remove most of the Blairite MP's, which deals with the situation in Parliament.

The current requirement for Labour leaders to be nominated by MP's should be scrapped. It should be up to the party as a whole to nominate and decide who the Leader should be. A barbell approach is required. On the one hand a focus on the grass roots, community action, building workers self-government within each community that can be connected together. On the other a focus on Europe, opposing nationalism and arguing for the building of direct, co-operative links, worker owned, co-operative enterprises across Europe, in place of the reactionary nationalist demands for nationalisation, and for the building of co-operative organisations across Europe arising from them, that stand in direct opposition to the capitalist state structures.