By Tom Barker, Leicester Socialist Alternative
No sooner had Labour’s disastrous election results been announced than the Blairite jackals began to howl for Jeremy Corbyn’s blood. Dame Margaret Hodge sounded the starting gun at 4am on Friday morning: “Corbyn talking about a period of ‘reflection. I’ve reflected. You failed. Please stand down.”
Phil Wilson, who lost Tony Blair’s former stronghold in Sedgefield, said: “I think he should consider his position, given this is the second election he has lost for the Labour party.” Labour grandee, Lord David Blunkett, went further and laid the blame at the feet of the radical manifesto and called for a return to days of “sensible offers” where “you get a lot of it done, not all of it, and where you let people down on occasions”.
The Blairite grouping Labour First is now even running a petition calling for Corbyn’s resignation “with immediate effect”. Self-described leftists like Paul Mason have also called for the same.
The Labour right are moving quickly to impress their interpretation of the election onto the future of the Labour Party, but this must be vigorously resisted. A return to the political “centre” (in reality the “right”), would lead Labour into the same abyss as their sister parties around the world, who offered no alternative to austerity politics and paid the ultimate price for it.
Corbyn should have resisted calls for his resignation. Unfortunately, however, he has already agreed to step down as leader within an appropriate time frame. But if his remaining time is used wisely, there is still much that can be done to continue and develop the leftward trajectory of the party.
Transform Labour into a fighting organisation
Rather than sinking into the doldrums, Labour members need to rise to the challenge now ahead. Labour lost the election, yes. This will undoubtedly make opposing the Tories in parliament harder. But history is rarely made through parliament alone. It is on the streets and in the workplaces that Labour can carve a new way forward and this, in turn, will put them on a far firmer parliamentary footing.
The Labour Party needs to be transformed into a fighting organisation, a party of struggle. In order to become such an organisation not only must the Blairite election narrative be challenged, but the purveyors of these lies must finally be confronted and defeated – one and the same tasks, in reality.
The hate campaign which the Blairites waged against their own leader, in the run up to and in the midst of one of the most important election campaigns in recent history, smearing him as an anti-Semite, an extremist, and a threat to national security, had a big impact on the course of events. Their unswerving commitment to overturning the Brexit referendum under the pretence of “protecting workers rights”, when it was clear that upholding the referendum was a decisive issue across much of the country, should also be laid open to scrutiny.
In 2017, when the position of the party was to uphold the Brexit referendum, Corbyn’s Labour made the biggest gains since 1945. When Corbyn, a lifelong critic of the capitalist EU since entering parliament in 1983, had been forced into this recent fudged position on the Brexit, largely as a result of pressure from the right and soft-left, Labour suffered damaging losses.
Part of transforming Labour into an organisation of struggle will therefore mean introducing basic democratic accountability of elected representatives. Mandatory reselection has an important role to play in this as it allows members the opportunity to choose their representatives before they stand for election. The right to recall MPs is clearly also now essential in order to reign-in MPs who choose to deviate from democratically arrived at decisions taken by the membership.
There is plenty of blame to go around, not least the vacillations and compromises made by Momentum and John McDonnell, but the Blairites must now be made to bear the bulk of the responsibility for yet another Tory government.
Attempts at compromise with the right wing have demonstrably failed, time and again. If a campaign to remove them is not spearheaded from above, members must take the initiative.
But what is also needed is a shift in emphasis away from parliamentary politics and toward building movements on the streets and in the workplaces. This is how it should have been from the start. Corbyn is from a campaigning background and this is the terrain where he is most capable.
One of the differences between the 2017 and the 2019 Labour election campaigns was the relative lack of mass public engagement in the latter, with too many rallies taking place away from public view. This was a missed opportunity to speak over the head of the Tory press.
Canvassing is an essential part of winning elections. But mass rallies, protests and demonstrations are decisive for socialists. To find an example of this approach, look no further than the campaign in Seattle to get Kshama Sawant elected. As a member of Socialist Alternative (our sister organisation in the US), we led a movement-building campaign that defeated a council candidate who was directly bankrolled by Amazon’s Jeff Bezos – the richest man in the world.
The Tory press will never provide a favourable environment for socialists, which is why we must do everything possible to speak over their heads. Television and radio coverage are useful platforms for addressing workers, not for addressing journalists.
Movement building is also a powerful weapon in winning the argument about “how” a socialist manifesto is implemented – a question which was frequently posed on the doorstep. Indeed, a £10 minimum wage, kicking the corporations out of the NHS, curtailing the ability of the arms industry to sell to governments with a track record of human rights abuses, the nationalisation of mail, rail, water and energy – none of this would be possible simply by electing a Corbyn-led government alone. It is not possible to simply legislate away the precedence of big business (not least because the Blairites would not stand for it).
No, building mass movements is absolutely essential because they provide a base of support which the capitalists must recognise in negotiations. In such instances, they are not just negotiating with politicians but also with the labour movement, which is uniquely placed to shut down the economy altogether.
Successful mass movements demonstrate in a living way how gains can be achieved. One of the reasons why the Labour Party failed to convince the public that their plans were viable was because they focused too much on the prize rather than the method.
The tasks are big, but they are necessary.
If the Blairites’ interpretation of the election is allowed to predominate, it will lead to a catastrophic rightward shift in the party, irrespective of the political qualities of any one leadership candidate going forward.
Labour may have lost the election, but movements around climate change and precarious workers show that a fresh and combative element is now coming into play. It is no coincidence that Labour’s voter base was overwhelmingly youthful. This is music of the future.
Corbyn, and future Labour leaders, must, above all, commit to building these and other movements.
The Tories’ election is a house of cards. When it becomes clear that they will never get Brexit done and all they have to offer workers is more austerity, everything will come tumbling down. Socialists must be ready to seize the opportunities that will arise in the coming period.