Tuesday, 15 September 2015

Corbyn and the PLP

According to reports yesterday, when Jeremy Corbyn turned up to the weekly PLP meeting last night, he was met by almost deathly silence compared with the banging of desks that usually greets a new leader.  The same reports also referred to the comments of some of those MP's who are not Corbyn supporters, but who have agreed to join the shadow cabinet, in contrast to those who have refused.  "We have to allow him time to fail on his own terms," was the line that seemed to be adopted.

That same approach, was taken by some of those Blairites and soft lefts that staff the various think tanks, before they find their way into a safe Labour seat, or job working for the capitalist press.  It clearly, is a danger.  But, it is one that social democrats always have to confront.  The last Labour government was one of the most right-wing on record.  It came into office implementing, for the first three years, the Tories spending plans.  During its time in office, it not only ran budget surpluses for twice as many years as had the Thatcher/Major governments, over a longer period, but also ran a deficit to GDP ratio only half that under the previous Tory governments.  Yet, that did not stop the Tories and their media from successfully claiming that Blair and Brown's government had been profligate!!!  Blair and Brown, failed to reverse the anti-union laws introduced by Thatcher, and presided over more restrictive labour laws than anywhere else in Europe.  Yet, that did not stop the Tories claiming that Labour was in hock to the unions.

Conservative parties and policies destroyed the Greek economy, leading to the election of Syriza. Yet, despite only being in office for a few months, trying to deal with the problems that created, and the further problems imposed by conservative politicians and policies in the EU and ECB, conservative Greek politicians did not fail to blame Syriza for the current crisis!  That is just a fact of life, that any social-democrat, seeking to win reforms within capitalism has to address.  If you are going to let it stop you trying, then you may as well give up all together.  Wars are not won in one go, ground is gained, and ground is lost.  The question is how to gain the most ground at least cost, and how to hold on to it, by the most effective means.

Corbyn's main immediate problem is fairly obvious.  His support is in the tens of thousands of people outside parliament, whereas he faces an immediate silent, and often not so silent opposition within the PLP.  The first problem arising from that, was simply to be able to select a shadow cabinet. There is an obvious case for selecting other members of the Campaign Group as shadow ministers, but that has to be tempered with the need to have people capable of doing the job.  If the Blairites/soft left want to see Corbyn fail, there is no point aiding that by stuffing the shadow cabinet full of people who have never had any relevant experience.

But, secondly, Corbyn wants to show that he is reaching out with an olive branch to the rest of the PLP.  Already, despite for the first time having a majority of women in the shadow cabinet, and having Angela Eagle, effectively fulfilling the role of shadow deputy Prime Minister, as shadow First Secretary of State, the Blairites/soft left were quick to carp that women were not in any of the "top jobs", meaning the Victorian era empires of the Home Office and Foreign Office.  There was even more howling at the appointment of John McDonnell as shadow Chancellor.

This is the downside of winning in the way Corbyn did.  His own victory came from a landslide in the party, but it is a landslide that has come after the rest of the PLP have been selected, and elected. Moreover, it could be nearly five years, before recalcitrant MP's can be brought to heel by a reselection process.  Corbyn faces a similar situation to that the Bolsheviks faced in 1917.

Lenin had thought that the mechanics of administration would be a fairly straightforward thing.  He was wrong. On the one hand, in the factories, the workers had no experience or necessary skills at organising and managing production, in the way they would had they been running their own co-operatives for many years prior to the revolution.  Moreover, there was no more reason why workers would use their own time to devote to going to meetings of soviets and so on, than there is for workers today to go to union meetings and so on.

The result was that the soviets became the preserve of the activists, and increasingly of the Bolsheviks.  At the same time, the old factory owners had to be brought back to manage the factories. Similarly, Lenin having underestimated the task of administration of the state, was similarly force to bring back the old Tsarist state officials.  A look at Lenin's prescriptions for the organisation of the workers' state, set out in "The State and Revolution", for example, bear absolutely no resemblance to the state that was actually established by the Bolsheviks, after 1917.

In order to try to control the old tsarist officials, and the old factory owners, the Bolsheviks, were then forced to waste valuable resources introducing political commissars to oversee them, to counter any tendency by them for sabotage.  Its one reason that Lenin tried to get foreign capital to set up in Russia, not just to speed up the process of development, but also to quickly train Russian workers in the technical and administrative skills required to take on the function of factory management.

It is perhaps, a strategy that Corbyn may also have to adopt.  The shadow cabinet cannot be filled with Campaign Group members, but every member of the Campaign Group could be brought in as shadow junior ministers, acting as a political commissar to monitor the work of the shadow ministers, and at the same time quickly creating a pool of talent, able to step up to replace any Blairite/soft left shadow Ministers.  But, the strength of Corbyn, and by extension the Campaign Group resides outside Parliament.  Its there that the buttress for Corbyn and his supporters in Parliament must be created.

A start would be the proposal I made recently that the shadow cabinet itself should be elected in the same way as the Leader and Deputy Leader, and the NEC.  Nominations should not be restricted to only the PLP, but the whole party.  That would reduce the power of the PLP to its appropriate level. But, also, just as Corbyn's supporters in parliament have to create mechanisms for monitoring the work of shadow ministers, and developing an alternative pool of talent, so the huge movement that has been mobilised outside parliament has now to be mobilised to monitor the activities of their own MP, and to put the appropriate pressure on them.

The attitude of MP's and of the media was made clear by the discussion of various journalists of the prospect of a return of the mandatory reselection of MP's.   That was one of the demands of the Campaign for Labour Party Democracy in the 1970's and 80's.  The principal is quite straightforward. Just as MP's and councillors have to face periodic election, rather than only when they are challenged, so too MP's should have to automatically have to demonstrate that they continue to have the support of their party, rather than only when someone in the party demands they do so.  The reason for that is also simple.  Firstly, if a member of the party, first has to propose that the MP face reselection, it places any such individual in an invidious position.  Secondly, it creates the potential for the Tories and the media to focus on any such reselection, as a reflection upon that particular MP. If all Labour MP's have to automatically face reselection, no individual reselection procedure can be used as a reflection on any individual MP.  This process already happens with the selection of Councillors, and, for example, the officers of the party, as well as of trade union organisations.  It only brings MP's into line with the rest of the Labour Movement.

Yet, when journalists referred to this procedure last week, it was seen as some extreme left-wing demand, with the intonation, who do these party members think they are that they should challenge the right of the MP to continue in office in "their" constituency.  That reflects the cosy relation between the Westminster elite.  Of course, journalists who went to the same universities and so on, as the MP's, who have made politics a career, do not connect the position of the MP with any real concept of democracy.  The constituency, particularly for the majority of MP's who have safe seats they retain for life, is seen both by those MP's and by the media as being "their" constituency, rather like the old feudal lord had "their" manor, and all the people within it only had a role in meeting their needs.  So, today, the members of the party, who are expected to schlep away to deal with problems, and get the MP elected, are only seen in the role of serfs, there to do the bidding of the MP.  That is especially true when the main consideration is only to get the MP elected so that they can get on with their career, rather than to actually win power for a purpose of changing society.

There is a closed shop between all of these elements of the establishment.  They go through university, only distinguished by whether they choose the red team or blue team, the Labour Club or Conservative Students.  After University, they become special advisors, employed in think tanks before getting themselves a job in a safe seat as an MP, or else they find their way into the media or into a management job.  And, just as Kenneth Galbraith described the Military Industrial Complex in the US, whereby US politicians provided lucrative contracts for big defence companies, and then after leaving politics found themselves with plum jobs on the boards of those same companies, so too the direction of flow here, is not just in one direction.  Right-wing MP's both Labour and Tory, as well as going to the House of Lords, find their way on the boards of companies, or else taken on as advisors, or provided with regular columns in newspaper or on TV.  Its no wonder this cosy establishment circle is affronted by any suggestion that the hoi polloi, should interfere with their career plans, with demands for crude things such as democracy.

That above all is their shock at the election of Corbyn.  There is nothing remarkably left-wing or extreme in Corbyn's politics, when compared with the politics of Attlee, Wilson, or Callaghan.  Much of the economic and industrial policy would be taken as read in a successful economy like Germany, which for decades has had laws to restrict the danger of "capital eating itself", as a result of shareholders enjoying undue power.   In Germany, the nature of joint stock companies as socialised capital, and not the property of shareholders, is reflected in the the 1976 Co-determination Law, which requires all German companies that employ more than 2000 people to have half of their supervisory boards elected by the workforce.   The Bullock Report in Britain, reported in 1977, under the Labour Government, of Jim Callaghan. Its proposals were more radical than in Germany. German co-determination provides shareholders still with the upper hand, because the Chairman is always a shareholder, and has a casting vote. However, the Bullock proposals would have enabled unions to directly elect the company management. In addition to worker and shareholder representation on the Board, it proposed a third “independent” component.

At the same time, the EU developed its Fifth Directive On Company Law, which proposed a system of co-determination similar to that which exists in Germany.  It has not been acted upon, because, as in Britain the defeat of Labour in 1979, resulted in the rise of conservatism, with eighteen years of Tory government under Thatcher and Major, which promoted the interests of fictitious capital over productive capital, so similar dynamics developed across the EU as a whole.  But, clearly there is nothing left-wing, or extreme in the idea of socialised capital being organised efficiently, for the purpose of growing businesses, and the economy, rather than simply increasing the fictitious wealth and incomes of share and bondholders.  On the contrary, such a policy is truly "pro-business" rather than simply "pro-shareholder", as the Tory/Blairite policies have been.

It is indeed, as Paul Mason suggests one reason why a Corbyn government should focus on increasing the importance of the Business Department, and diminishing the power of the Treasury and Bank of England, an idea others have mused upon recently.  There are a significant pool of academics, as Paul suggests, like David "Danny" Blanchflower, who sat on the Bank of England MPC, and Richard Murphy, who can provide a shadow monetary policy unit, and other such shadow units, that escape the limits of the conservative thinking of the Blairites.  But, as suggested in previous posts, an at least equally important requirement now is to organise the vast numbers that have been attracted to the party in recent weeks.

My son has told me about lots of his friends, who signed up as registered supporters, some of whom have now become members.  They are not alone, according to the reports of the LP website groaning under the strain of applications for membership following Corbyn's election.  The Balirites and those who think they can just "wait for Corbyn to fail on his own terms" show their disdain for all these new members in their attitude, but they also show they have failed to grasp that a fundamental change in the wider society is occurring, and they are likely tog et swept away by it.

Each CLP should establish a support committee for their MP, whose function will be to monitor their activity, and support them in adhering to, and carrying out party policy.  It should provide detailed reports on the MP's activities, so as to provide the required information, on which members can vote in the next selection meetings.  But, a large amount of activity can be fruitfully undertaken without waiting for a new election, and new set of labour MP's.  A first step will be to select new candidates for the council elections to take place next year.  here is a perfect opportunity to develop local policies based upon militant opposition to the imposition of austerity measures, and for building widespread anti-austerity campaigns across the country.  But, anti-austerity is not enough.  We need a positive alternative to austerity, not just at a macro level, but at a local and micro level too.  That will involve occupations, and the creation of new worker-owned and controlled enterprises, that can demonstrate that a different way of going about things is possible.

We are only making the first steps.

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