Arguments for Corbyn

Submitted by Matthew on 3 July, 2015 - 4:44 Author: Michael Johnson

Questions and answers on supporting Jeremy Corbyn in the ballot for Labour Leader.

The 2015 election shows that the Labour Party is dead. The Corbyn campaign is just one last twitch from the corpse.

Rumours of the death of Labour have been greatly exaggerated. Labour got over 9 million votes in the last election and retains the affiliation of 14 trade unions, representing around three million workers.

The Labour Party still occupies a central position in labour movement politics, which socialists simply cannot ignore.

Though the link between the unions and Labour is under threat, the unions still have 50% of the votes at the Labour Party conference and its National Policy Forum, and representation at all levels of the party.

The problem with your view is that you wish to go around the existing labour movement — the trade unions, including their link to the Labour Party. We should start from where workers are at and propose how we can fight from here.

The Corbyn campaign has had a wide resonance, even with people who did not vote Labour or are members of other parties such as Left Unity or the Greens. This is an implicit understanding, however vaguely expressed or unsystematically thought-through, that the unions’ links to Labour make that party a crucial site of struggle for socialists. 

It is our job to develop that insight and convince people of the need to transform our whole labour movement.

Yes, but the main reason that the unions are so timid is because they are tied to the Labour leadership. They should break from Labour and form a new left party.

If only it was the case that the unions were pushing militant struggles and radical politics, only to be held back by the Labour Party! You’ve got things upside down.

One of the major reasons why Labour ran such a flat and uninspiring platform in 2015 was that the unions, most of which have policies far to the left of the Labour’s, did not assert themselves through the party. At the National Policy Forum in 2014, Unite had the chance to vote for an anti-austerity alternative budget proposal and decided to back Ed Balls’s cuts instead!

The problem is that the unions’ leaderships and political structures are not held accountable to members. All too often, the unions think if they box clever, and avoid a public fight, they can gain some concessions from the Labour Party. 

This channel between the bureaucratic leadership of the Labour Party and the union bureaucracy would be a problem even if the unions disaffiliated from Labour and backed a more radical party. All the same problems, flowing from the democratic deficit in our unions, would be replicated no matter what the political set-up. 

We need to build rank-and-file networks to assert members’ control over what our unions’ political representatives are doing in the Labour Party, to make sure they push union policy and to replace them when they don’t.

I support Jeremy Corbyn but if he doesn’t win the left should accept it’s been the final push and should leave Labour. Afterwards, I’m going to join the Greens, or maybe Left Unity.

But the Corbyn campaign isn’t about Jeremy Corbyn as an individual candidate! It is about having an opportunity to transform the labour movement organisationally and politically. Even if he won, it would not overnight solve the problems of the labour movement, with many union and party branches and members inactive, and passive leaderships.

In several trade unions, activists have set up networks of trade unionists for Corbyn to pressure their unions to back his campaign. They would be joining the transport workers (RMT) and the firefighters (FBU). Local constituency parties are organising meetings, and new or previously inactive people have been drawn in to support Corbyn.

Win or lose, we should fight to preserve these networks and argue that the campaign should be used to forge enduring links between trade union militants, Labour Party members and wider activists around a perspective of building a movement capable of asserting working-class interests.

The worst thing would be if people were stirred up to vote Corbyn and, if he lost, then peeled away in ones and twos afterwards in disillusionment.

Even if the Corbyn campaign and its supporters split to form something new (unlikely), it would not answer the question of how we turn around our whole movement, most of which would still be tied to Labour.

A much better perspective for re-founding independent representation in politics would come from a renewal of trade union self-assertion on the political front, including in Labour, but also around mounting public campaigns, for example, around the new anti-union laws.

Pushing the unions to back Corbyn has to be seen as part of that process, and not just an exciting new bandwagon for lefties to jump on until the next big demo.

Your perspective sounds like staying in the Labour Party unconditionally.

We don’t fetishise the current structures of the labour movement. But they are a reflection of the current state of the class struggle, and this low level of struggle, industrially and politically, is what we need to overcome.

If trade union self-assertion grew until it hit the point where it could no longer be accommodated within the shell of the Labour Party, so be it.

It could be that an assertive labour movement would push the Labour Party to a split, either with the Blairites closing down the unions’ political power in the party, or splitting off themselves to form a “progressive re-alignment” with the Liberal Democrats. 

This could open up immense new possibility for independent working-class political representation, with local labour movement conferences, trades councils, active union branches and left-wing constituency parties meeting to develop this idea collectively. But this is very different from calling for a split now as a solution to the labour movements’ problems.

I like Jeremy Corbyn because I’m “old Labour”. The Labour Party used to be a vehicle for socialism and maybe if Corbyn wins that may be true again.

There was no “golden age” of the Labour Party. It was never a socialist party, committed to the overthrow of capitalism and its replacement with socialism. Marxists have never thought that it would be the vehicle through which the working-class will win socialism.

The fundamental reason why the Labour Party is important for socialists is because we look to the organised working-class as the key agent in capitalist society; it has the power to shake the current system to its roots and replace it with something better. And in Britain, the organised working class is still, on the whole, affiliated to the Labour Party.

The Labour Party is still what Lenin called a “bourgeois workers’ party”. It is a contradictory formation, with a leadership that holds bourgeois pro-capitalist ideas yet at the same time maintaining structural links to the organised working class.

It is now much closer now to the bourgeois “pole” than it was when Lenin was writing in the 1920s, and if it sheds its links to the unions, it would cease to be a meaningfully working-class party, let alone a socialist one. But that has not yet happened and, in the current circumstances, if it did, it would be a defeat for the idea that the labour movement should be represented in politics by its own political party.

But even a very left-wing Labour government, even one led by someone like Corbyn, would be unable to take power and “legislate for socialism” from above. The task of constructing a socialist society, of thoroughgoing social ownership and democratic control over the economy, in every workplace and community, requires the conscious participation of millions of workers.

And for this, we need more than just trade unions to bargain for our wages within capitalism, or a Labour Party committed to reforms through the political system.

We need socialists to organise together to fight the ideological battle against capitalist ideas in the labour movement, and to promote the idea of a socialist society based on common ownership and democracy.