Mike Wayne joins the debate on where next for the left which Counterfire has been covering in a series of articles
Here’s a collective fantasy that a lot of people are having right now, it has a real if narrow window of opportunity to become reality: that Jeremy Corbyn leads a small phalanx of left-wing Labour MPs out of Labour and collaborates in the formation of a new party.
This new party would very quickly attract a mass membership base of hundreds of thousands. Corbyn’s leadership of the Labour party between 2015-2020 put nearly 400,000 people on the membership roll of the Labour party as those disillusioned by decades of neoliberal policymaking returned or joined for the first time.
The legal fund set up to defend Corbyn against possible litigation by the BBC’s Panorama journalist John Ware, raised more than £260,000 in three days. This act of solidarity, this refusal to believe the smears and lies about Corbyn, this fightback against the establishment plan to destroy the memory of a moment when things could have been different, has sent the media and Labour right oligarchy into apoplexy. It shows there is still a lot of love for Corbyn and he still has the capacity to take a wrecking ball to the plans to continue the process of delegitimising him. It is quite clear that the plan is to throw Corbyn out of the Labour party on their own terms, as a report in the Daily Mail indicates. He who strikes first strikes twice, as the Cuban revolutionary filmmaker Santiago Alvarez once said.
The lesson that Corbyn and left-wing MPs should have learned by now, is that they cannot win inside the Labour party. They cannot democratise the Labour party. Any insurgent left wing project, which has a chance to break through only every 40 years or so, is dragged down in internal fights against the party’s own apparatus and its own culture. That culture includes a constituency membership that is far too deferential to the MPs and a Parliamentary Labour Party that as a bloc showed utter contempt for the membership’s choice of party leader in 2015 (and again in 2016). They conducted a long war against that choice, effectively psychological operations designed to break down the membership’s willingness to resist. When Corbyn stepped down and the establishment wondered if they had been effective enough to terrorise the membership into line, they made it absolutely clear in the newspaper columns that they would continue their civil war should the membership have the temerity to elect Rebecca Long Bailey.
Would it not be a more satisfying experience for left wing MPs to be in a party that did not regard them as a sufferance to be tolerated as long as they remained contained, neutralised and a non-threat?
Would it not be more dignified for a membership to be in a party where they have a real say in policy making and candidate selection? How long one wonders will one person one vote stay in place? Expect the PLP to seize back greater control of the voting process sometime soon.
Would it not be advantageous to the trade unions to have a party that did not regard them as a relatively wealthy but embarrassing relative to whom a few crumbs are thrown now and again?
Would it not be electrifying if such a mass membership party could work as a pole of attraction for all the social movements churning desperately to get traction in the fight against inequality, climate change and institutional racism? The dominant culture of Labour is absolutely contemptuous of the left’s understanding that the party must be connected to political activists in society more broadly. That is, a ‘party of protest’ they sniff, not a ‘serious’, ‘grown-up’ party of (neoliberal) business managers like ourselves.
Some will say that such a new party will ‘split the vote’. For a time that may be true – but the point is to change the political conversation, talk about things that have been unsayable, attract new votes, pull those who vote for Labour out of habit or in despair at the absence of anything else, to some-thing new, radical and democratic. And to provide an alternative to the rise of the extreme right.
The Labour Party’s election manifesto in 2017 and 2019 lays the basis for a radical social democratic programme that understands redistribution of wealth as a class issue. Connected to a new party that understands extra-Parliamentary struggle as a way of refusing to concede to the moral and political leadership (hegemony) of the boss class and their allies, would deepen that programme.
We now know that it will take a revolution to get even modest reforms. Without such change, the future is getting very grim. Now is the time for bravery and a break with tradition from left wing MPs willing to submit themselves to new democratic and accountable structures; willing to be tribunes in the interests of workers and consumers, women, young people and pensioners, black and white, towns and cities, the newly arrived and long-term citizens. Only a massive redistribution of wealth and cultural transformation in how we do everything can overcome the divisions fracturing this universal coalition.
Now is the time to break the habits of generations. Now is the time to take a risk, to learn the lessons of the last five years, a principle one is that you cannot fight the establishment and your own organisation at the same time. Now, after a campaign of lies, smears, dirty tricks and sabotage by the establishment, now is the time to strike first and twice.
More articles from this author
- Where next for the left? - Mike Wayne
- Made in the US: the coup in Chile
- New horizons during Covid-19: beyond the limits of capitalist realism
- The Corbyn Project was defeated by the historic strengths of conservatism and liberalism
- Boris Johnson: tragedy for the Tories
- Why Labour must not become a hard remain party
- Are the liberal middle class on the verge of a nervous breakdown?