Tuesday, 7 January 2020

Predictions For 2020 - Prediction 2 – Labour Splits

In the 1970's and 80's, there were two variants of the entryist tactic in the Labour Party. On the one hand, Trotskyist groups saw it as a tactic by which the Labour Party would be split. They rejected the idea that it was possible to turn Labour into a revolutionary socialist party. Entryism was a means of speaking directly to workers, and building a large following, which would inevitably have to split to form a Workers' Party, or else would be expelled, or else the Labour establishment would itself split away. The other version was that adopted by the Left reformists of the Militant Tendency. They saw entryism as a long-term strategy by which they would gradually become a majority within the party, transforming it into a socialist party. 

This latter strategy was also consistent with that adopted by other Left reformists, including the Communist Party. The Communist Party continued the line it adopted in the 1920's, of insisting it be allowed to affiliate to the Labour Party. In the meantime, it sought to act as a ginger group, applying pressure on Labour to move in a more Left-wing direction, and it also sought to advance this strategy via its fellow travellers in organisations such as the Tribune group, and later Bennite groups such as the Labour Co-ordinating Committee, etc. The methodology was consistent with that used by Stalinism more generally. The USSR sought to advance its interests by gaining influence, by hook and by crook, over people in positions of authority. The Communist Parties also sought to extend their influence by trying to get their fellow travellers into positions in the labour movement. It is a typically top down, bureaucratic method, and the same thing can be seen with the way those same Stalinoid elements have operated, behind the scenes, in influencing Corbyn over the last four years. 

The logic of this approach is that, having gained control over levers of power, “socialist” measures can be implemented by a radical government. The consequences of such an approach were in fact seen in Chile, where Allende's Stalinist government was overthrown by the state, having failed to support itself upon any real social base. The left reformist approach of the Militant was essentially the same. The Militant, like the Communist Party, saw socialism, not in terms of a revolutionary transformation of society, resulting from a transformation of the productive forces, and the social relations that arise upon them, which itself is manifest in the development of the self-activity and self-government of the working-class, but in terms of a top down transformation of society, via parliament, manifest in their repeated calls for the capitalist state to nationalise the top 200 monopolies. 

The result of such an approach would, of course, be a repeat of what happened in Chile, and a consequential disaster for the working-class. The leader of Militant, Ted Grant, who came from the Trotskyist organisations of the 1940's, must have known that that is the consequence. Whether he simply had come to the conclusion that the socialist revolution was deferred to the distant future, or whether his strategy was to push in this direction, in the knowledge that, at some point prior to the establishment of a Workers' Government, it becomes necessary to create defence squads, a workers militia, and so on, in order to confront any attempts by the state to overthrow the government, is hard to discern. In practice, it meant that the Militant's politics amounted to simply left reformism, and sectarian party building, which also meant that their politics was extremely economistic and workerist. The Militant kept itself in splendid sectarian isolation, for example, from broader political movements inside the labour movement. They stayed separate from the Campaign for Labour Party Democracy, for a long time, they stayed separate from anti-fascist organisations, they avoided involvement in the women's movement and so on. In large part, this was motivated by a fear that raising these wider political issues would detract from its recruitment amongst the white industrial working-class. Their position on Ireland followed a similar course.  In part, it was fear that having their members involved in these organisations threatened exposing them to revolutionary ideas and losing them to these other revolutionary groups.

Today, we have a Labour Party nominally larger than it has ever been. But it is deeply fractured. On the one hand, the old right-wing establishment retains a stranglehold over the PLP. Out of just over 200 MP's, it controls about 180 of them. But, those MP's have no support base amongst the rank and file membership, and, for now, the central machinery of the party has been brought under the control of the Corbynites, and their power base inside UNITE. Consistent with their approach, they are attempting to keep Corbyn in place until such time as they can try to ensure his replacement by someone in the same mould. On the one hand, for now, that is beneficial in preventing the right from forcing Corbyn out, and attempting a coup to replace him. On the other, it is bad, because, if the Stalinists succeed in simply replacing Corbyn with a Long-Bailey, or someone of that ilk, it will spell the slow death of the party. They will double down on the disastrous economic nationalist rhetoric about Labour losing due to being too associated with Remain. They will continue to appease nationalistic sentiments in order to tilt at windmills in trying to pursue an industrial working-class base that has long since disappeared. They will fail to orientate towards the actual working-class that exists today, and which forms the real progressive base of Labour's core vote. 

Labour's core membership also reflects this actual working-class. It opposes Labour's failed pro-Brexit stance by a majority of around 90% to 10%. But, this huge core membership is still soft. It was drawn in on a wave of enthusiasm for Corbyn, and to stop Brexit, but the basis on which it was drawn in was largely passive. It only had to vote online for Corbyn, and so on. It has largely failed to get involved in local branch activity, which has enabled the right-wing MP's to remain in office, though that has also been facilitated by Corbyn's regime which failed to push forward mandatory reselection. If Labour ends up with a Long-Bailey, and a continuation of the failed pro-Brexit stance, expect large numbers of members to drift away. Already in early 2019, Labour lost around 100,000 members, and saw 60% of its members vote for the Liberals or Greens. 

The right have suggested they might have a recruitment campaign to get a surge of new members to join the party to support Jess Phillips. That isn't going to happen. In the 1970's, and 1980's, the old Right always managed to drag out a bunch of pensioners we'd never seen to vote for them at Branch AGM's. Those days are over. There are not enough people nationally who are going to join Labour to vote for a right-wing candidate. Some of them will end up following their own nationalist politics to its logical conclusion and joining the Tories. The best hope for Labour's right and soft left, is to rally around Starmer. As an anti-Brexit candidate he has the potential to mobilise the support of the centre-left, and a significant portion of the core membership. But, Starmer will almost certainly be led to try to restore some discipline and control. 

Starmer is a former Pabloite Trotskyist, but there are no shortage of such people from the Left that have made he journey over to the Liberals and Right.  Some drifted into the social-imperialist Euston Manifesto Group, and into Blairism, some traversed all the way to the Libertarian Right.  He will seek to remove the influence of those Stalinoid elements behind Corbyn. He will be led to make an alliance with the centre-right of the party. A similar process to that of the 1980's, during which Kinnock gutted the party, by expelling large numbers of members, and closing down branches and CLP's would be undertaken. Whether  Starmer set out to do that or not, the combination of a revitalised right and centre, regaining control at local level and in the party machine, combined with the passivity of the majority of the new membership would create a dynamic he would not be able to resist.  In reality, this would destroy Labour too. 

The best hope for Labour is Clive Lewis. Lewis has been a consistent supporter of Remain throughout, but unlike Starmer or Thornberry, Lewis is also calling for a cleaner break with the party's Blair-right past, and is arguing the need to extend party democracy, which is vital, if we are to remove the stranglehold that the right has over the PLP, and party machinery in the rest of the country, outside London. The question will be whether Lewis can garner the required 10% of nominations from MP's. The other question revolves around the influence of the union barons. 

We can rule out any chance of the Right winning the leadership, which means that the same split inside the PLP will continue. The likelihood is that UNITE and other big unions will back Long-Bailey. Others like TSSA may come in behind Lewis, or Starmer. But, the fact that the PLP will continue to be dominated by the right and Blair-rights, means that the party is almost certain to split. Whoever the party elects as leader, the PLP will attempt to hold them captive, or remove them, as they did with their repeated coup attempts against Corbyn. If Long-Bailey is elected, the Right will move quickly. They will seek to split the PLP, and take control of the party machinery, name and resources. Some of the trades union barons, always keen to have influence over parliamentary parties, will, sooner or later, come in behind it. This Blair-right party will soon invite back David Miliband, and make overtures to what is left of the Liberals. They will seek to win over some Remainer Tories, though their number has been slashed by Johnson's purge. 

This party would be a British equivalent of Macron's En Marche, and it would provide a basis for the progressive sections of the ruling class to rally around, in order to constrain the actions of Johnson and the Tories. 

If Starmer becomes Leader, the right will move more cautiously. They will try to capture him, and force him into an alliance against the Left. Would Starmer comply? His past association with Trotskyism might suggest not, but political reality suggests probably so. The thought of holding the party together, of retaining union support, and so on, would be a big incentive. But, the half million members of Labour today, means that this is not the same situation as that which existed in the 1980's and 90's. Labour's far right, like Alan Johnson, have already called for Momentum to be expelled. The passive nature of many of Labour's new members is likely to mean that many simply fall back into apathy, but a look at Europe shows another potential. In Europe, the largest advance has been amongst support for the Greens. 

Early in 2019, 60% of Labour members voted for the Liberals or Greens. If Labour members start to be purged, there is potential for Labour to effectively split, with huge numbers going over, as a bloc, to the Greens. Even if only 20% of Labour's membership switched to the Greens that would be a huge development. It would not result in them becoming a major political party, but it would give them a significant base to develop from. Let me be clear that this is not a development that I would welcome or desire. Such developments are a distraction from the need to build a mass Workers' Party. 

The best hope for Labour, therefore, continues to be the election of Lewis as Leader. The Right may hope to capture Lewis, but if Lewis makes a tactical alliance with the Left, at the same time as rapidly pursuing a democratisation of the party, the Right may be neutered. It would lead inevitably to the Right splitting, and they will certainly try to retain Labour's name and resources, but they are likely to be reduced to a rump, whose support in parliament will not in any way reflect their support in the country itself. Labour would be placed in the position of being able to rebuild, founded upon its mass and newly empowered membership. 

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