The fortunes of the Corbyn project and the wider movement are intertwined, argues Ben Myers
In the aftermath of the Richmond and Sleaford by-elections, in which Labour suffered losses, the mainstream media have revived the mantra of ‘Corbyn cannot win a general election’ that was temporarily frozen by his crushing re-election as Labour Leader in the summer.
In my opinion, however, supporters of the Corbyn project in Labour, should not get too distressed at these defeats. It is fair to say that these places are not truly representative of the rest of the country, as they are far more affluent than average, and there is no tradition in either of solid Labour voting to build on. But we can certainly look at the reason as to why the left has seemingly made little electoral progress, despite Labour’s now massive membership base. Labour does not represent the left as a whole in Britain of course, but we can draw some parallels with the wider movement.
Since the end of the 1970s, the left has been significantly weakened as one of the great forces in British politics and society, with the far left becoming a marginalised section of society in the eyes of many at this time. It is perceived by mainstream pundits that there has been a marked shift to the right, evidenced by an emerging anti-immigrant and xenophobic zeitgeist, as well as a general opposition to internationalist sentiments. There are a variety of reasons for this, so the question is, how do we grow into the force that will revolutionise society, and transform it for the better?
Doom-mongers on the left frequently forget there are many great organisations with significant influence such as the People’s Assembly and Stop the War Coalition. So not all is doom and gloom, but that being said, we must find a way to expand on a much bigger scale.
The movements have struggled to properly engage with the working class over the past few years. A strong minority of the movement has been allowed to label those concerned about immigrations as ‘racists’, without stopping to properly engage with these people over their concerns, and educating them about why they are misdirecting their anger. These attitudes divide the working class, making it difficult for the broader movement to gather support, stunting our ability to grow and replace a broken and tyrannical capitalist system. The only way to ensure a vibrant socialist movement is to challenge racism head-on.
A second reason is a certain lack of imagination in agitation and our own propaganda. For example, Lenin’s What is to be done? managed to inspire and motivate many workers, prior to the 1917 Revolution. So what do we have? We must be ever-present in working-class communities with street stalls, leaflet drops, door knocking; anything to show ourselves and bypass the mainstream media. We should use hard-hitting slogans, talk about people’s jobs, housing and inequality. If the populist right has shown us anything it is that many people are responsive to politicised emotion so why not co-opt their rhetoric, but turn it on the capitalist class, the bankers and CEOs?
This is being done small scale, but we need to expand. Social media is being used effectively and our online presence is growing day by day, but nothing beats being out there on the streets. This also applies to the Labour Party as well, although, from my recent experience of the Blairite wing of the party, they make little or no effort to convince Corbyn supporters. While knocking on doors they simply listen passively to criticisms, and instead of challenging them, nod their heads in a patronising unwillingness to engage in debate.
With the threat from the right in Britain and the rest of the world, it is imperative that we get our message out there, lest we be lost in the noise of a dying liberal consensus. We must mobilise fast and hard, maximise our resistance to capitalism, and talk to the workers about the vision of a better society, where living standards are guaranteed and there is work for all. As Trotsky said, “We cannot discuss the various systems of swimming, and turn our eyes from the river”. We must re-engage, empathise, and educate for our struggle.