UK. This appeal is addressed to the young and the not so young. It is aimed at those who have joined the Labour Party over the last four years on the Corbynist wave, who are now thinking of leaving it or have already left. It is addressed to those who have mobilised around the environment and have attended the Extinction Rebellion actions and the school climate strikes. It is addressed to those who have come out in the streets over Black Lives Matters, and over the Nurses United demonstrations.
Originally published by Anarchist Communist Group.
Many thousands joined the Labour Party from autumn 2015 onwards with the hope that a Corbyn government would somehow change the appalling situation of inequality and exploitation, that Labour would somehow challenge capitalism in a meaningful way. They were motivated by a strong sense of injustice and an anti-capitalist spirit. By the way, we don’t include in these many thousands the cynical Trotskyists who joined Labour to recruit to their own little outfits.
These thousands of you joined Labour for the best of reasons, because you thought that a Labour victory would change the balance of power and herald a new era of equality. However, Labour has a long history of being the enemy of real social progress. It is there to defend capitalism, and even at its most progressive, has always been a social democratic party, one which believes it can carry out mild socialistic reforms under capitalism. The changing nature of the global economic situation has removed even the possibility of such mild reforms. Labour is there to divert real social movements and to sabotage and contain any genuine social change.
The Myth of 1945
Take the 1945 election, when Labour was voted in on a landslide and a majority of 145. After years of war, many did not want to put up with a class ridden society of inequality, poverty and shortages for the working class. However, the nationalisation that was carried out, was seen by the ruling class not as a way of bringing about more democratic control of industry, but simply as a necessity to rebuild the country. In France the right-wing nationalists led by General De Gaulle had nationalised far more of the economy, and they certainly weren’t doing it in the name of socialist ideals. Meanwhile Labour’s program of social insurance (welfare) was based on a report by the liberal economist William Beveridge in 1942. Even Churchill’s Conservatives were prepared to implement ‘cradle to grave’ social insurance had they not lost the election. The creation of a National Health Service took pride of place in the manifestos of all three main parties. The reforms brought in were geared to firstly help Britain reconstruct after the War and secondly head off any revolutionary movement by offering a package of reforms to placate the masses. The ruling class was fearful of another round of revolutions after World War Two, after it had witnessed a similar scenario after World War One. By 1948 Labour were introducing an austerity package because of an economic crisis that had started the previous year. It included cuts to NHS provision and a wage freeze. Labour even banned sport during the week because they believed that it encouraged absenteeism. Unemployment shot up from 400,000 to 1.5 million. Labour’s attacks on the working class hadn’t waited until 1948. Within 6 days of coming to power Labour sent troops into the Surrey Docks in London to break a strike. Three months later Labour again sent troops in to break a national docks strike, and did this again in 1948. In 1950 Labour used the Navy to break a gas workers strike and had some strikers arrested and charged. Labour also used the courts against striking miners in 1947.In fact throughout its term of office Labour repeatedly acted against workers with the key target of keeping wages down. In foreign policy Labour strove to preserve the British Empire and indeed other Empires, helping the Dutch in Indonesia for example. They intervened militarily in Egypt in 1951, threatened Iran in 1951 over oil interests (sound familiar?) shot down demonstrators and used napalm in Greece. They went back on their commitment to the end of military conscription, eagerly keeping it in place. Labour re-established relations with the Franco dictatorship in 1951, bombed Indian villages in 1946, and applied vicious repressive measures in Kenya and Malaya. The 1945-51 Labour Government was not a Golden Age. Far from it. The reforms that were passed, and that indeed made working people’s lives a little easier, would have been given just as readily by the Tories or Liberals. They were given because Britain needed to be rebuilt after the War and to head off unrest and rebellion. To this day however, there are still those who continue to push the idea of a Labour government acting as a pioneering socialist administration.
Oh, Jeremy Corbyn
After Labour’s devastating defeat in the May 2015 election, being all but wiped out in Scotland, some high-ups in the party thought that it would be a good idea to have a token left candidate in the Labour leadership elections. Modelled on the US primaries, the leadership race was designed to give an appearance of democracy whilst trying to take away any real say from what was left of the base membership of the Party. On one hand the Labour Party could say it was being inclusive, while on the other hand Corbyn’s expected defeat would show that there was no room at all for what was left of the Labour Left and anything that at all jarred with the hymn to the market that was being sung by the party leadership and their party machine. For his part in this, Corbyn is rather a mediocre personality. For years he would have been seen as being on the centre Left of Labour, offering the standard social-democratic politics and bland discussion points. Corbyn was now being portrayed as some sort of left-wing radical due to how far to the right the rest of the party has moved. However, the plans of the party chiefs backfired, as they underestimated the strength of feeling amongst the working class. There were plenty of people that were disgusted by the ever-increasing austerity measures being voted though parliament. Labour membership grew to try and put in place a leader that people felt could turn the party into a force to oppose the ongoing cuts. Corbyn was given a clear mandate by the membership to be the leader, unfortunately the will of the membership makes little difference to the party’s actions. At the core of the Labour party many were far less thrilled about this turn of events. Wealthy donors threatened to pull their support and a huge number of Labour MPs refused to be considered to form part of the shadow cabinet alongside him. Those that did were little better, and often voiced open opposition to their Leader’s ideas. Many thought the Blairites would rebel. A leaked memo by Tony Blair’s right-hand man Peter Mandelson urged the parliamentary party to just sit back and wait for Corbyn to lose popularity before the Blairites retook control. Mandelson and his ilk didn’t want a public split at this point as they feared any split would sink the ship they hoped to steer. Corbyn did not want such a split either, even if some of his left allies welcomed it. He has been a loyal Labour MP for 30 years, staying with it through thick and thin, through the Iraq War, though Labour’s introduction of university fees, and most recently through the complete lack of opposition to the Tory Welfare Bill. His inclusion of Blairites in his new shadow cabinet showed just how reluctant he was to split the party. He may have won the leadership contest but he was up against the ‘party machine’ built by Blair and his allies. It is designed to shore up their control, decide who gets onto the list of electoral candidates, and stifle opposition from the membership at key times. He also faced the majority of his own MPs who are still wedded to the Blairite and Brownite ideas of the Labour Party being pro-business and pro-war. In order to hold his party together, Corbyn spent the first two weeks of his leadership backing down and capitulating on precisely the things his supporters wanted from him. He was forced to make the vote over scrapping Trident and opposing the current austerity measures a free vote, meaning MPs were able to ignore him. He also stated that his opposition to the benefits cap was purely personal and worst of all, he stated that Labour, if elected, would work within the same budget laid out by the Tories. We should not be surprised by his well-intentioned lies. Corbyn is just one in a long line of ‘new hopes’ of the Left, designed to fail before they have even started. PASOK and SYRIZA in Greece betrayed their supporters. The Irish and German Green Parties sold out to get a chair at the table. Podemos in Spain u-turned on their radical rhetoric.
Because of the Labour Party apparatus ruled by the Blairites, Corbyn had to shift his political positions, at least publicly. An opponent of immigration controls, at the last election he promised the most right-wing Labour policy on immigration in over 30 years. An opponent of NATO, he regarded it as a “danger to world peace” and socialists had to campaign against it. He now embraced NATO, saying that “I want to work within NATO to achieve stability”. A life-long opponent of the monarchy, Corbyn now stated that the abolition of the monarchy “is not on my agenda.” A critic of the police and its shoot-to-kill policy he once laid a wreath to victims of police violence at the Cenotaph. He now said that the police should use: “whatever force is necessary to protect and save life.” Labour pledged to increase the number of police by 10,000 and the number of prison warders by 3,000 and border guards by 500.
How much more would Corbyn have turned to the right if he were Prime Minister?
In fact, the new enthusiasm for the Labour Party drew people away from involvement in grass roots campaigns and movements.
It was argued that a Corbyn-led Labour government would somehow galvanise social movements. However, let’s look at the example of Bennism in the early 1980s. Bennism was a similar movement to Corbynism. It mobilised around the left Labour figure of Tony Benn. In fact, both Corbyn and McDonnell were minor figures within Bennism, as were some of their present associates. There was great hope that Benn would become deputy leader of the Labour Party until he was defeated by Denis Healey in 1983. In the process a large number of activists from the various social movements, women’s groups, gay liberation groups etc. who up till then were existing outside the Labour Party, were now dragged into Labour and in the process these social movements were demobilised.
A similar phenomenon happened alongside this when Ken Livingstone ran the Greater London Council from 1981 to 1986 and developed his ‘rainbow coalition’, involving the same social movements mentioned above, absorbing them into the GLC. The GLC funded many groups and organisations and often became dependent on this funding, unable to carry on when the funding was withdrawn. Again, the result was demobilisation, with people looking towards the GLC administration rather than relying on their own action. Livingstone backed down against Thatcher on tube fares and setting local rates and there was no significant response on the streets.
Going back to SYRIZA, we saw a situation where it persuaded people to rely on its being in power and fighting against the austerity measures imposed by the EU, the IMF and the World Bank. Of course, SYRIZA broke every one of their electoral promises. The SYRIZA member Stathis Kouvelakis had later to admit that the negotiation process with the EU “by itself triggered passivity and anxiety among the people and the most combative sectors of society, leading them to exhaustion”. The Greek social movements have taken a long time to recover from the SYRIZA experience and that could be the same scenario with a Corbyn government. Again we repeat, we have to rely on our activities and our own organisation of grassroots struggles.
For us, the key question in all of this is the autonomy of the social movements. If Labour had been elected again, our belief is that we would have seen a scenario similar to that of the election of the Labour government led by Harold Wilson in 1964. Then quite substantial layers of young people who had been radicalised by CND and the Committee of 100 and by the examples of the civil rights movement in the USA and the struggle against apartheid, not to mention the burgeoning cultural movements, had an initial enthusiasm for the promised change from the Wilson government and were very soon bitterly disappointed.
This led to an increasing radicalisation noticeably apparent from 1966 onwards. We feel that such a radicalisation can be repeated, and obviously not thanks to a Labour victory, but thanks to Starmer’s moves to return things to as they were within Labour. Unfortunately, with that first wave of radicalising young Labour members and sympathisers, some were drawn to the Leninist groups who were seen as effective, efficient and disciplined. This time round, the remaining Leninists groups are now a shadow of their former selves and have been damaged by events, like, for example, the Socialist Workers Party, and its cover-up over Comrade Delta, and the subsequent splits by those disgusted by the behaviour of the Party leadership. The Leninist parties and groups don’t have the same appeal as they once had.
We are aware that there will be calls to create new parties, A Labour Party Mark Two, or a new “Worker’s Party”. Whether this be around the dodgy George Galloway and his Stalinist backers, or around the SWP or the Socialist Party, or any of the other groups, we know that these are dead ends, will of the wisps that will act as lures into a dangerous swamp.
As we have said, thousands were inspired by the Corbynist wave. All of this enthusiasm could be channelled to inspire and create new grassroots movements that are based on collective decision making, mandation of delegates, and direct action. This must be a movement that organises outside the system, and is a movement that is not extra-parliamentary, but is one that is ANTI-PARLIAMENTARY. As Sylvia Pankhurst said back in 1923 : “Parliament is a decaying institution: it will pass away with the capitalist system” and: “Women could no more reform the decaying parliamentary institution than men could…the woman professional politician is neither more nor less desirable than the man professional: the less the world has of either, the better it is for it.”
The mutual aid groups that have emerged during the pandemic, the direct action carried out by Black Lives Matter demonstrators and school climate strikers, could be potential building blocks for such a movement, as can struggles around housing, around evictions, around safety at work and job cuts and unemployment.
The thirst of so many for social justice and equality coupled with the grave concerns over climate change and pollution, should be the driving force behind such a movement, one that is not shackled by links to Parliament and the State. We cannot afford any more of the traps set by Labour, the Leninists or the Greens which seek to spike the guns of emerging social movements.
We know that potentially huge struggles are in the offing. They must be focussed around the streets and the workplaces, not Parliament. Redundancies and mass unemployment, the growing gap between the rich and the poor, the worsening climate crisis, racism, sexism, transphobia and prejudice, police brutality, the housing crisis are issues that should mobilise us in our thousands upon thousands. None of these issues are single issues, they are all interconnected and bolstered and bred by capitalism.
We know that the only long-term answer to all of these problems is a profound social revolution and the establishment of a new society, based on the common sharing of the wealth of the world, on mutual aid, on the end of inequality, wars and borders. This is Anarchist Communism.
As was remarked upon recently in an article in Freedom News, “Anecdotally, more people are showing an interest in anarchism again, particularly in the absence of a Leninist left which has leapt in with both feet to try and Win for Corbyn and is weak on its own account.” We know that in and around the movement around the Labour Party, there is an interest in anarchist communist ideas. Many are reading anarchist communist classics like Kropotkin’s Conquest of Bread and Mutual Aid, some via the various Left Book Clubs that have sprung up.
We urge those who are disgusted by recent events to join with us in creating a combative grassroots movement that acts for genuine social change, that develops ideas of mass decision making and mass assemblies and that gears itself to the establishing of a truly just society, Anarchist Communism.
Anarchist Communist Group, August 14, 2020.
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