Jonas Liston is delighted by Jeremy Corbyn’s victory. But he’s not going to join the Labour Party.
Whilst on the one hand today, I became the dickhead working on a roof in this ghastly torrential rain, who every passer-by pities, on the other hand, I’m delighted by the space Corbyn’s leadership election victory has opened up, for left politics and ideas, as well as broader debate and argument, amongst, in my case at least, family, friends and colleagues.
It’s polarizing my social life to some degree, teasing out the most wide-ranging political arguments that I’ve experienced outside the movement since the 2011 riots and to be blunt, giving a bit more breathing room to anticapitalist arguments being received, not positively or with open arms, but with the acknowledgement that I’m not just a “mad revolutionary” anymore, and that there are a series of possibilities open to interrogation, beyond the recent state-of-play, if you’re not on the organized left.
The way in which that gives confidence not just to the social democratic left, but also to the anticapitalist left, cannot be bypassed. It forces us to sharpen up, on the strategic terrain more generally, but also, day-to-day, on the terrain defined by the right’s attacks on the Labour leadership and the left’s politics more broadly and also the acts of that same leadership in response or even, something I’ve never seen from the “official opposition” in my lifetime, when they’re on the offensive.
I hope in the months to come there will be forums where questions of strategy and the like, can be collectively debated and discussed amongst revolutionaries but crucially the left as a whole. The announcement of a pan-European anti-austerity conference by Corbyn’s team, I hope is a part of this.
However, a question that has arisen for debate, is to join, or not to join the Labour Party? My own answer is a firm no, and my reasons, in no particular order, go like this:
1) I’m a part of a revolutionary left without the democratic culture, ideological sophistication and coherence or the social weight to support Corbyn within the Labour Party without falling to pieces.
2) I think there is an open question amongst that same part of that left of how, when we might operate within wider reformist formations, we can actually build an independent non-sectarian politics that avoids the pitfalls of silence or inaction that has been such the norm for the anticapitalist left, recently and historically, operating within wider reformist formations. Basically, we need to think politically about how the revolutionary left can develop, organize, grow and most importantly contribute towards advancing struggle, when operating in reformist formations to the right of us, where dangers of bureaucracy, electoralism, manoeuvring and conservatism are staunchly apparent. Let me be clear, these dangers also exist on the far left to some degree, as many of us have seen in past years, but with far less of a material basis, of far less importance and with far less vitriolic politics.
3) A crucial consideration, of course, is whether you can actually operate within the Labour Party. I mean, by the standards of left populism and left Europeanism, the Labour Party’s democratic processes makes Podemos’ lack of democracy look like a workers’ council in action, with the former having a long list of people wanting to utterly annihilate you, from Blairites to union bureaucrats. This said, and I really mean this, all power to all the Labour Party’s new members and Corbyn’s team if they attempt to democratize the organization.
4) I think, despite its magnificence, it’s unclear how stable (or volatile, if you like) Labour’s new membership surge is. The rallies were huge, the surge itself is huge but how is this manifesting itself at a branch level (I really wanna’ know!)? I’ve heard reports of there being no activation of a left Labour base in some constituencies, whereas in other areas, like my own constituency, I’ve heard of huge Constituency Labour Party meetings, which comes onto my next point.
5) I want mass politics. I want to build a relationship with as many new ‘activists’ as possible in my area to fight austerity, police racism, social cleansing and all the other big local fights and I want us to win those. I do not have to be a member of the Labour Party to do that, and I do not want to become embroiled in a faction fight where, based on the dark history of the Labour Party, we will probably get smashed.
6) I also think in place of the strategic insufficiency of the anticapitalist left, we can’t keep doing a Jay-Z (“On to the next, on, on to the next one”) and jumping in numbers onto the next big thing. We need strategies.
I wish the best of luck to comrades I know or have yet to meet who are joining. We outside, I imagine, will be supporting and strengthening your hand, in our arguments and in our contributions to campaigns and struggles we’re involved with, and by standing strong with you against the right. That’s not a magic bullet or a counter-position, far from it, it’s a strategic or tactical difference, depending on how you see things. We’ve got a lot to figure out about how we rebuild our power from below, whether we are talking the state of the workers’ movement or strategic debates in the anti-racist movement but it’s that, in thought and practice, that will be the key to wider social transformation (#winning) and give us all, the entire left, you and me, the weight we need to box Cameron and Osbourne in the face and start winning some real shit for our class.
Corbyn’s contribution to that so far has been astounding. I hope it continues to have the effect it has already had, both in society and in the struggle. Part of that is contingent on a maintenance of principle and a commitment to social struggle on the part of Corbyn’s team. I hope again, that spirit continues, in spite of internal Labour machinations. I also hope we on the militant, anticapitalist left will do everything to ensure the continuation of what we’ve seen these lasts months and particularly this last weekend.
The first big stop for me seems to be in early October, where I hope a mass demonstration will shut down Tory Party conference (I mean, I hope actually, physically, not rhetorically), but also around our solidarity with refugees work, which has already come a massive way given the scale of last weekend’s mobilization. Of course, it should go without saying that, our organizing in the workplace, anti-oppression struggles, and local campaigns such as the shutting down of a library or a youth centre, need to be centre-stage.
To summarize, I’m of the opinion the anticapitalist left needs to see it itself as a part of a wider left, exemplified by Corbyn’s victory, avoiding cynicism and sectarianism; immerse ourselves in struggle and fight alongside people of a diversity of political persuasions, without burning ourselves out and demoralizing each other; build practical unity amongst ourselves where possible; discuss and think collectively where possible; and continue the hard, thankless task of helping to creatively rebuild the social power of proletarians and the oppressed all over.