With Corbyn now leading the Labour Party, socialists, ant-capitalists, anti-austerity campaigners and environmental activists urgently need to answer the following questions
1 Is the Labour Party still just a bosses party?
Over the last 25 years, more and more socialists have concluded that Labour is no different from the Tory Party. Given that the last Labour government privatised more jobs and launched more wars than Thatcher, this is understandable to say the least. But three things are surely clear to everybody now.
Firstly, nearly everybody opposed to austerity, including candidates to the left of Labour, admit in private that they woke up on May 8th wishing that more people had voted Labour.
Secondly, a socialist would not be elected to lead any other party. Labour’s continued living link to the trade unions enabled this.
Thirdly, many of the hundreds of thousands who joined Labour are people who have regarded it as somehow their party even though they felt it’d been hijacked some time ago and hadn’t even been able to vote for it.
2 Should all socialists join the Labour Party?
The Labour Party has changed. The right are on the defensive despite their dominance of the Party machine. After the election, many thousands joined Labour. In some places like Brighton, the left made gains on General Committees for the first time in years. My local Labour Party just had as many as 300 people at its meeting this month, with the leadership outvoted on issues such as Trident.They now have 3,000 members, dwarfing the Green Party in their own heartland.
I think this is too important a movement to abstain from, yet that’s exactly what some of the left are doing. It’s no good just wishing the Corbynistas well and declaring the need for an alternative to Labour. The key debate is going on within the Labour Party right now, and for the foreseeable future. All socialists surely need to be part of that both to galvanise socialist networks, regardless of whether we think Labour could ever be “ours”, and to help merge these struggles with the fight against austerity throughout society.
3 Is the struggle in the streets and workplaces really separate from the forthcoming struggle within Labour Party?
Some on the left seem to be counterposing these two struggles. This is surely nonsense (never mind showing no understanding of the complex relationship between political and economic struggles). The movement from the unions and campaign groups against cuts surely needs to link to the 450 councillors who backed Corbyn. Trade unionists and anti-cuts campaigners can play a key role in helping organise those 450 into a movement that can turn back austerity. Union activists in the Labour Party can organise together both against the right wing in their party and to strengthen union organisation at all levels.
A growing left inside Labour can strengthen the movement on the streets and in the workplaces. The reverse is equally true. So why just take part in one arena of struggle? We want people active in the Labour Party to get more involved in building unions and campaigns. And in those campaigns, we want to pull more of the ideas and energy into democratising the Labour Party.
It is of course true that you don’t need to be a member of the Labour Party to know and work with their activists. That co-operation has been happening in unions and campaigns for decades. But surely we have a responsiblity to try and lead the hundreds of thousands of potential new activists both in the fight with Old New Labour and to ensure the movements inside Labour and in the workplaces are connected.
4 Do “Revolutionary Socialists” still need to organise independently?
Absolutely. Those of us who think there is no way socialism can be brought in through parliament and that any form of Keynsian Corbynomics as some kind of solution to the crisis is a pipe dream, should not pretend otherwise. In fact we should seek to have this debate with all those we would be working alongside. Furthermore, the actions of those who do believe that change can come mainly through parliament can end up being forced to organise against revolutionaries, forcing through compromises with the right. Revolutionaries need to organise independently now wherever they are, in unions and within Labour.
5 Should socialists in the unions argue for affiliation to Labour?
For years now the link between unions and the Labour Party has been attacked by the Blairites and the likes of the Socialist Party. With Corbyn as leader, non-affiliated unions like PCS, RMT, FBU and the NUT will debate affiliation. It will be a boost to union activists to be linked to a politically left Labour Party, and it would be a boost to the left in Labour to be linked to the most militant trade unionists. Hopefully, those who’ll argue for affiliation like Mark Serwotka will win over those with influence in the PCS like the SP away form their opposition to Labour on principle.
6 What about the Green Party, Left Unity and Tusc?
Members of the Green Party and Tusc have a great deal of organisational skill, ideas and experience. The Corbyn campaign shows that the existing Left in the Labour Party were able to organise in a principled and well organised way. It would be great if all those skills and experiences could be brought under one banner. Afterall, the manifestos of the Greens, Tusc and Left Unity are almost identical to Corbyn’s programme. We would all be so much stronger. If those parties asked to openly affiliate, as the Communist Party requested in the 1920s, socialists in the Labour Party could organise to support that. Greens like Caroline Lucas have already been arguing for co-operation, as have some activists in Scotland.
Groups that in the past have made a principle out of what should be a tactic – the SWP and SP not joining Labour now, or the Militant being “deep entryists” in Labour in the 1980s – need to see the current debate not as one about entryism. It is about openly participating in the key struggle in the workers movement in Britain today. The Greens too see themselves as totally separate, and its certainly true that many of their members are miles away from the kind of socialism I understand. But many more have policies identical to Corbyn and his supporters. They may have a greater emphasis on environmental issues, but these are issues that need to be brought into the centre of any broader socialist movement anyway.
In the long run, I think that a separate organisation of revolutionaries would need to organise outside Labour. But at the moment, a Labour Party that united all opponents of austerity and neo-liberalism, with full democratic rights for all members to organise and influence policy, could be the kind of step forward we need to reverse the march of neo-liberalism in Britain.
Whether or not that happens will depend on the response of thousands of socialists do now.