Not doing a Jay-Z

Jonas Liston is delighted by Jeremy Corbyn’s victory. But he’s not going to join the Labour Party.

The moment Corbyn's victory was announced to supporters in Hyde Park. Photo: Steve Eason.

The moment Corbyn’s victory was announced to supporters in Hyde Park. Photo: Steve Eason.

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.

 

There are 11 comments

  1. pjwoodward64

    Agree strongly with Jonas, but I’d add two things, firstly, I think – whilst comradely – the ” ‘best of luck’ while you go off into the LP, ” may not be the best advice. We should be strongly urging left radicals to consider aligning with an openly revolutionary perspective, we can fight for reforms too, but we don’t want these potential comrades to be chewed up and disillusioned in the LP, especially in places where the Blairites are strong (e.g. Lambeth). We can see the electoral campaigns about London Mayor, local elections and the European Referendum coming in the nexct 18 months. I suspect, this will be what a lot of the activity within the LP will be about from now on. Electoral work within the LP has different aims, resource needs and results from campaigning within a revolutionary framework. Secondly the strategy should be as a pole of attraction to the new movements, by working within existing (and new) united fronts – such as against the TU bill, stand up to racism, anti-fascist work, environmental campaigns etc. We can have a dialogue with those potential revolutionaries who have been enthused by the campaign and see the struggle going beyond the parliamentary limitations which significant parts/all of the LP still don’t agree with.

  2. Andy G

    Hi Jonas,

    Interesting piece. I’ve not joined the LP but have been considering it. Some of your arguments ring true with me, others seems a bit thin. Please take the following as constructive dialogue (and me thinking aloud).

    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”

    This is an honest admission of where we are at and, as such, very welcome. It does rather beg the question how we can hope to “continue the hard, thankless task of helping to creatively rebuild” the Left without similarly compromising our political identity and coherence, doesn’t it?

    2) “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.”

    Quite, but such an environment is hardly confined to the LP, as you acknowledge. Isn’t this tantamount to saying “we’re not sure what to do so we’ll do nothing” at least in this immediate context? I am not sure what offering support to the Labour left in their fight to democratise the party means as a non-LP member, given so many of the arguments within the LP rank and file will be conducted in party fora.

    3) “A crucial consideration, of course, is whether you can actually operate within the Labour Party.”

    I’m not sure how effectively comrades joining the LP will be allowed to operate. It is rather an open question, isn’t it? It may be that they are purged. It may be that they aren’t and the LP machine feels unable to act against them without risking fracture. How can we best ensure the latter and not the former?

    4) “It’s unclear how stable (or volatile, if you like) Labour’s new membership surge is”

    The permanence of the “LP surge” is, again, open to question and undoubtedly uneven. I live in a town where the LP doesn’t even bother to field candidates so I am aware not everywhere is a seething hotbed of CLP activity! But isn’t everything open to question? If the mobilisation of the rank and file continues and we are on the outside looking in will we be better placed to relate to it then if we had been directly involved?

    5) “I want mass politics”

    Agreed. But we have to build that in an environment that is not of our own choosing, don’t we? If the route to mass politics does lie via the LP (and I am not saying it does) we are on for a faction fight if we like it or not. A fight against Labourism and the labour bureaucracy (in most general terms) is coming if we join or not

    6) “We need strategies.”

    Yes please! But what are they!

  3. PW

    Re:

    1. What is meant by “falling to pieces”?

    3. Is there any mass party or organization free of the influence of our enemies? This formulation seems to conflate two different problems — that there are hostile forces working against us in mass organizations and whether or not there is democratic space within the Labour Party to wage a determined struggle against those hostile forces.

    5. You want mass politics and engagement with Corbyn’s large following inside the Labour Party but refuse to join said party where that mass politics and engagement are actually taking place.

  4. acs3344

    CORBYN – THE FALLOUT

    Corbynmania.
    Corbynistas.
    Corbynomics.
    Corbynites.
    Should it give us hope? What’s next? And can the Labour Party be transformed into something else?
    WellRedFilms meets with philosophy lecturer Nina Power and Eliane Glaser of Compass to discuss the issues.

  5. nothingiseverlost

    Solid, principled article. A few replies to PW’s points:
    1) Do you really not know what the left falling apart looks like? Really? If you actually need help on that one, I’d suggest a look at the history of the International Marxist Group after they entered Labour for starters.
    3) Whether or not that democratic space exists is indeed one of the key questions. Along with Jonas, I don’t believe it’s there, and I think that Labour party policies can be influenced more effectively by struggle outside the party – e.g., just as the tories were persuaded to drop the Poll Tax, not by left entryism into the party, but by determined campaigning outside it, the history of Labour’s changing positions on the Work Capacity Assessment, from introducing it to opposing it, shows the power of disabled activists who fought Atos and the WCA directly, instead of relying on lobbying Labour.
    5) That’s the thing though – particularly as Labour are not actually in power, the test of the Corbynistas’ ability to affect wider social realities won’t be whether they can get nice resolutions passed in CLP meetings, but in how they interact with the wider outside world in local campaigns, unions and the like. It’s at that point that those of us who are staying outside the party can also work alongside them.

  6. PW

    ^The question isn’t whether I really know what “the left falling apart looks like,” the question is what does the author mean by that phrase? Thank you for providing a non-answer to that one.

  7. RayB

    “You want mass politics and engagement with Corbyn’s large following inside the Labour Party but refuse to join said party where that mass politics and engagement are actually taking place.”

    That’s a false premise. It assumes that the LP actually has the potential to facilitate mass politics and political engagement from below but we know that historically this is far from true. Corbyn is caught in a trap that is not going to end well. As much as I would like to see him and his supporters reform Labour even a mildly optimistic assessment of his chances based on the level of support he received is undermined considerably by the history of the Labour Party political machine and more immediately the daggers being wielded by certain members of his own shadow cabinet and the London mayoral candidate. Unless there is a root and branch reorganisation of Labour by those who voted for Corbyn then inevitably the right will isolate and dis-empower Corbyn via those very structures themselves.

    If Corbyn can’t manage to reform Labour after receiving 60% of the vote then no matter how many on the left outside Labour sign up it will make little difference to this outcome. The point is not how many on the left sign up to Labour but the actual political and organisational role Labour has in capitalism. Until those on the left in Labour accept this reality then their faith in reforming capitalism will always be disappointed and they will continue to regurgitate moralistic demands of allegiance to that project regardless of whether it’s possible or not.

    Despite any illusions Corbyn and McDonnell might have in Labour, it’s refreshing that they aren’t among the chorus demanding we join Labour and are still actively supporting initiatives outside of Labour. Some of their supporters who have tunnel vision about Labour membership might help rebuild the left as a whole if they followed their lead instead of focusing so much on their own organisation.

  8. RayB

    http://www.theguardian.com/politics/2015/sep/27/corbyn-trident-vote-rejected-labour-party-conference

    Instead of worrying about recruiting the whole of the left to Labour perhaps the most pressing concern for those who joined in support of Corbyn is to kick that warmonger Hilary Benn out of the shadow cabinet. Sad that Corbyn’s spinning this as a victory for party democracy. Sign the petition in support of Corbyn but with no illusions that Labour can be reformed.

  9. Michael Rosen

    Socialist finds himself at the head of a mainstream political party, a party that is full of out and out pro-capitalist, pro-war right wingers. The political situation is one in which there is a near total grip by the media on a neoliberal world view and that wars are necessary. All the time. What can this socialist (and a few allies) actually do? 1. resign immediately and say that nothing is possible? 2. consider how the policies that he talked about in the campaign can be fully understood and supported by the full membership so that the centre and right of the party can’t have the party just for themselves? 3. Consider which policies he and friends can come up which can wrong foot the media consensus (e.g. decoupling deficit from austerity)? 4. Join the SWP?

  10. RayB

    Bring together activists from different organisations and those who are unaligned to campaign against austerity while having a debate about reformist and revolutionary strategies? This was what Corbyn managed to achieve so successfully during his election campaign and has been a feature of anti-austerity campaigns before his election that formed the foundation for his support.

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